Power Struggles at Interior Department Impact Indian Affairs

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 When Kevin Washburn became Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs in September 2012, he had some work to do. Not just the typical demands of running a complex subsection of a large federal agency, but also the complicated work of regaining a portfolio that had been siphoned off by overeager Obama administration officials.

Tribal officials and Indian insiders nationwide saw firsthand the shift in power away from the assistant secretary’s office in the early days of this administration, when Larry Echo Hawk, Washburn’s predecessor, was forced to recuse himself in several important Indian issues due to family ties and other possible conflicts of interest.

Concurrently, David Hayes, retiring Deputy Secretary of the department, began taking credit for progress in Indian affairs, including the Cobell settlement, water and other tribal trust settlements, while shifting any blame for problems in Indian affairs to others. Hayes, in perhaps his last leadership action on Indian affairs before exiting the department, has scheduled a June 18 teleconference on the latest aspects of the Cobell settlement land consolidation tribal trust land buyback plan. Washburn is scheduled to join him on the call.