Tribal officials are reviewing an overdue audit that must be submitted to the federal government by the end of the month to keep federal money that funds services on the reservation flowing after the start of the new fiscal year on Oct. 1.
The Catawba Indian Nation’s tribal executive committee is expected to meet Friday to formally approve the delayed 2012 audit submitted this week by Scott and Co. of Columbia. The audit report must be received by the Bureau of Indian Affairs by Sept. 30 to avoid sanctions that could cost the tribe more than a million dollars in federal funding.
The $1.2 million in funding pays for social services provided to members through the tribe – including children’s services and clothing and food provision to needy members – as well as economic development efforts and aid to tribal government that funds administrative duties, said Catawba spokeswoman Elizabeth Harris.
Once approved, the tribe only needs to submit the document electronically to the bureau’s regional office in Nashville, Tenn., said Catawba Indian Chief Bill Harris. The bureau itself does not need to review or approve the document for the tribe to continue drawing funds.
“It’s not up to them,” Bill Harris said. “They just have to receive it.”
Harris said he was still reviewing the report along with accounting staff this week to ensure everything is in order prior to the executive committee sending it to the BIA.
Scott and Co. also are compiling overdue audits for 2013 and 2014, but those reviews do not immediately threaten any functions on the Catawba reservation. Elizabeth Harris said those audits should be completed in short order “without any further delays.”
What caused the delay in submitting the 2012 report was unclear. Tribal officials said when they hired Scott and Co. to complete the audit after initially using local firm Burkett Burkett, the new accountants needed time to review several years’ worth of financial statements to get up to date on the Catawbas’ financial situation, after Burkett was unable to complete its work on the report because of a fire in its offices.
Harvey Heise, Burkett’s executive vice president, disputed that, however, without saying why the firm had ceased working with the tribe. While Burkett suffered a small fire in its office ceiling, it didn’t affect the firm’s client files, which are stored electronically off-site, Heise said. The fire occurred in December 2011, before the firm received the 2012 documents.
This would not be the first time the Catawba Indians have suffered from a loss of BIA funding. The tribe previously lost BIA funding in 2003 after falling three years’ behind on its audits, and didn’t regain the funding for four years.
Jason Harris, who was elected to the executive committee in 2004, had to deal with the aftermath of that funding loss, when tribal members were unable to access the services normally provided by the tribal longhouse and, including indirect costs, stopped millions of dollars from moving through the local economy.
Tribal members had to cope without essential services, even though Jason Harris asserts the BIA has a fiduciary responsibility to provide those services to tribal members.
“I hope they’ve learned their lesson about getting audits submitted in a timely fashion,” Jason Harris said. “This basically employs the whole tribal administration.”
Restoring the tribe’s funding was a painstaking process that involved tribal leaders flying cross-country to meet with numerous BIA officials. Then-Congressman John Spratt had to intervene to get executive committee members a meeting with an assistant secretary of the Interior.
“We pulled every invoice we had in the building to justify how our money was spent,” Jason Harris said.
In an emailed response, an Interior Department spokesperson said the tribe is working closely with the BIA regional office to complete the audit by Sept. 30.
“We anticipate that programs will continue to be funded,” the spokesman said in the response.