INDIAN AFFAIRS: Preliminary Results Show Continued Challenges to the Oversight and Support of Education Facilities

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Emrey-Arras, Melissa
Institutional Author
Government Accountability Office
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Published Date
08-04-2015 3:55 PM
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Information on the physical condition of Bureau of Education (BIE) schools is not complete or accurate as a result of longstanding issues with the quality of data collected by the Department of the Interior's (Interior) Office of the Assistant Secretary-Indian Affairs (Indian Affairs). GAO's preliminary results indicate that issues with the quality of data on school conditionssuch as inconsistent data entry by schools and inadequate quality controlsmake determining the number of schools in poor condition difficult. These issues impede Indian Affairs' ability to effectively track and address school facility problems. While national information is limited, GAO's ongoing work has found that BIE schools in three states faced a variety of facility-related challenges, including problems with the quality of new construction, limited funding, remote locations, and aging buildings and infrastructure. GAO's ongoing work also indicates that several key challenges at Indian Affairs are impeding effective management of school facilities. Specifically, GAO found declines in staffing levels and gaps in technical expertise among facility personnel in Indian Affairs. Further, GAO found that Indian Affairs did not provide consistent oversight of some school construction projects. At a school GAO visited, Indian Affairs managed a $3.5 million project to replace school roofs. Yet the replacement roofs have leaked since they were installed in 2010, causing mold and ceiling damage in classrooms. Indian Affairs has monitored this situation but has not addressed problems with the roofs. Indian Affairs' facility management is also hindered by poor communication with schools and tribes and confusion about whom to contact to address facility problems. Poor communication has led to some school facility needs not being met. For example, school officials submitted a request for funding to address their school's lack of hot water almost a year before GAO visited the school, but Indian Affairs facility officials were unaware of this until notified by GAO. GAO's preliminary results indicate that these persistent challenges diminish Indian Affairs' capability to oversee and support facilities and provide technical assistance to schools. They also run counter to federal internal control standards and leading practices on workforce planning and construction project accountability.
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