Navajo Nation President resumes consultations with Speaker, RDC committee
WINDOW ROCK, Ariz. — Navajo Nation President Buu Nygren continued his Legislative Branch consultations on Thursday in Window Rock, welcoming Navajo Nation Council Speaker Crystalyne Curley and hearing the priorities and concerns of the Navajo Nation Council Resources Development Committee.
The President reiterated his messages that:
- $1.7 million in federal ARPA funding must immediately begin being spent as the year-end deadline to return it nears.
- He is eager to start doing what the Navajo Engineering and Construction Authority has 50 years experience doing: building roads, waterlines, and bathroom additions.
- The Navajo Nation needs to fix its internal bureaucratic roadblocks in background checks, lack of tribal housing, and rewrite personnel policies in order to fill 2,000 tribal job vacancies and raise salaries to attract educated, credentialed, certified, professionals.
RDC Chairwoman Brenda Jesus said background checks were initially for public safety personnel only. Over time, that expanded so the office did background checks for every new tribal employee until the backlog became insurmountable.
The president's plan is to have people employed, permitted to work until their background check is completed, and if there is a problem with the result, they know they will be released.
“But at least this way some of the 2,000 vacancies can be filled,” he said. “Other problems with filling vacancies are low pay that the Navajo Nation provides and lack of housing.”
The President told the RDC that it is time for the federal government to begin to act to start cleaning up or capping radioactive waste at more than 550 abandoned uranium mine sites around the Navajo Nation.
He said Region 9 of the federal Environmental Protection Agency has had $900 million for that purpose waiting to be used and nothing has been done for 12 years. He said congressmen he meets in Washington ask him why.
“The Cove Day School kids are still playing out there,” he said. “Contaminants are washing down from the mountain where uranium was mined. The EPA said it would cost $550 million to clean it up. Let’s just make it safe.”
Chairwoman Jesus said ARPA is one of its most important priorities. Tom Platero, executive director of the Navajo Nation Fiscal Recovery Fund Office, told her many Navajo Nation divisions had submitted plans but not budgets to go with them.
“Dollars were allocated but management wasn't implemented,” President Nygren said.
He said it is now simply too late to hire internally to get projects built so the best option was to contract experienced third party companies “to come on board and manage these projects.” By April or May, people should be working on ARPA projects, he said.
“There's money to build power lines, water lines, bathroom additions,” he said. “We've already perfected that.”
Chairwoman Jesus said she worked for the Division of Community Development for 12 years. She said projects from chapters were submitted but they had no cost estimates. Ultimately, DCD was told it had to revert funding back to the federal government.
“With the amount of time we have, we need to bring in the pros,” the President told the committee. “We've got to get services out to the people.”
Regarding tribal enterprises, the President said he had three guiding principles: enterprises need to return annual dividends to the Navajo Nation, provide employment and be competitive in their markets.