WINDOW ROCK, Ariz. — Navajo Nation President Dr. Buu Nygren struck a tone of unity, collaboration and working to accomplish goals the Navajo people have asked for in his second State of the Navajo Nation address on Monday.
Reviewing what he’s done in his first three months in office, the President outlined a list of relationships he’s formed, the direction tribal divisions are charting, ways the $2.1 billion American Rescue Plan Act money should be spent, and how he will turn to the Navajo Nation Council to approve needed policies changes to untangle decades of unneeded bureaucracy.
“Since taking office ninety-eight days ago, one of the most important things I’ve done is re-establish relationships with Biden’s Cabinet members, members of Congress, federal officials, state governors and others,” President Nygren said. “In March, I joined seventeen other tribal presidents, chiefs and governors to present oral testimony before the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies on our needs. I’ve had insightful discussions with eleven Congressmen and Congresswomen, seven Senators, and twenty-one federal officials.”
To change the historic pattern of the past, he said that each of the officials he met in federal and state government know his and the Council’s intention is to use all funding allocations and appropriations that we have received – whether as direct appropriations, grants to our programs, 638 contracts, capital outlay and, most important the American Rescue Plan Act – ARPA.
“The single unifying message I convey to every official I meet is that any prior perception by other government entities that there is instability within the Navajo Nation government is now changing and is being replaced by our focus and unified intention,” he said.
The President said he has mobilized the Navajo Nation Fiscal Recovery Fund Office and directed division directors to find ways to remove tribal government barriers to his most important ARPA priority – infrastructure.
“You and I both want to build homes, build roads, bring water and power to our people, connect them with broadband and do it with the once-in-a-lifetime funding opportunity through ARPA. It is the responsibility of all of us to get this done,” he said. “So far, we’ve coordinated the completion of NTUA’s sub-recipient 164 review in six business days for $96.4 million. It will let us complete community home power lines, electric lines, wiring projects, and rural solar projects. NECA will soon receive $150 million for bathroom additions that I want to see built everywhere.”
When he took office in January, he said, his administration faced the prospect of returning hundreds of millions of dollars in ARPA money back to the federal government because so little had been done to use it.
“I can tell you now we are not going to do that and have plans underway to spend every penny,” he said. “Since ARPA funds arrived in 2021, the Council did its part. Unfortunately, on the Executive side, little got done. It’s easy to allocate funding but hard to get it out the door to do the work.”
• IHS has $563 million to construct water lines through its Sanitary Deficiency Program, a program that brings water to homes that don’t have running water for residents’ basic health.
• NDOT has nine road and drainage improvement construction projects totaling $33 million underway in Sanostee, Dilkon, Birdsprings, Inscription House, Pinedale, Ojo Encino, Whitecone and two in Kayenta.
• Navajo Nation OMB has set up dozens of business units, or accounts, totaling $484.2 million and has already allocated $215 million to water projects.
• The Executive Branch has held 10 strategic planning sessions to coordinate an initiative to build 1,000 new homes across the Navajo Nation.
He said the areas of strategic planning are: economic, educational, community safety, government efficiency, continuous building of infrastructure, wise use of natural resources, and protection of the environment.
“It took decades to create many of the barriers within our government that now hinder our Nation’s progress,” he said. “We are simultaneously taking another path to create the needed roadmap that will take us into the future we want. Policy reform will be a large part of this. That will require your help through legislation. Strategic planning is not a quick fix. It’s a process that produces results that are measurable.”
The President said part of the goal is to use ARPA funds is to build homes, roads, bridges, water lines, power lines, bathroom additions and broadband connectivity.
“So far, we’ve coordinated the completion of NTUA’s sub-recipient 164-review in six business days for $96.4 million,” he said. “It will let us complete community home power lines, electric lines, wiring projects, and rural solar projects. NECA will soon receive $150 million for bathroom additions that I want to see built everywhere.”
But to get the job done, he said the Navajo Nation will need help.
The Nation will need to bring on “accountants, engineers, contract analysts and especially project managers to ensure every construction project is done correctly,” he said. “Only with project managers on the job will we have thousands of projects done with the necessary attention to detail, and done to completion.”
The President addressed the Nation’s hiring crisis that is seen as a bureaucratic problem that can be rectified through policy reform.
“Divisions, departments and programs often know who is qualified to hire and ask them to apply,” he said. “Many of these applicants can’t be hired because some Department of Personnel Management requirements often eliminate candidates who may have done the same job before, may have the needed experience, but lack the required educational background now listed on an application.”
He explained that means specific people who are sought by departments don’t get a job, and the job vacancies remain unfilled.
President Nygren concluded his remarks by thanking interim Controller Elizabeth Begay for her years of service to the Navajo Nation and by announcing his appointment of interim Controller Sean McCabe, a certified public accountant with his own firm in Albuquerque.
“There are complexities and much diversity throughout our Nation,” he said. “We have a team in place who are dedicated to finding solutions and moving our Nation forward. Let’s continue to remain united to empower the Navajo people.”
After both the President and Navajo Nation Vice President Richelle Montoya addressed Council delegates and took their questions for nearly three hours, Council voted 22-0 to accept his report.