WINDOW ROCK, Ariz. — Officials from the Office of Inspector General from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of the Interior met with Navajo Nation President Buu Nygren to talk about the potential for waste, fraud, and abuse to occur once large amounts of federal funding come to the Navajo Nation.
The President and his administration have been planning large projects, which would be contracted out to contractors and subcontractors. While the projects would create jobs, they could also create the opportunity for dishonest, shady, deceitful relationships.
“The Office of Inspector General from the USEPA and the Department of the Interior have resources to help us prepare, so that when we do receive these increased amounts of federal funding, and we start to put these things to work that we can avoid waste, fraud, and abuse,” said President Nygren.
Investigators from the inspector general conduct independent audits, to prevent and detect fraud.
An example given of what could be investigated as fraud, abuse, or waste is if somebody lies for their own personal benefit, whether in particular, people that present themselves to the Navajo Nation as contractors or vendors, and enter into a legal contract with them, but they ended up not completing the job, or accomplishing work in a substandard way, and not being forthright and honest about it and basically attempt to shortchange or cheat the Navajo Nation.
If the tribe has to deal with that, investigators told the president they are a resource that can help investigate fraudulent activities by contractors or subcontractors doing work for the Navajo Nation.
Much of the federal funding coming to the Navajo Nation is through Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, or IIJA; specifically, in grants. The IIJA would provide $1.2 trillion in spending, $550 billion of which would be new federal spending to be distributed over the next five years.
The grants are primarily from the USEPA. Other funding the tribe gets are from the Interior from the Department of Energy, USDOJ, and the Federal Highway Administration- Department of Transportation.
Once the Navajo Nation gets the grants, the tribe has the responsibility to manage that money. A lot of that money goes into contractual relationships entered into with local vendors, regional vendors, and national vendors.
“The whole point is to have the information in hand going forward, working with our vendors in a good way and making sure all the work that gets done is completed as it’s supposed to be completed, and the dollars get expended the way they’re supposed to get expended, and that the projects are well built and do what they’re designed to do for our Navajo Nation people,” said President Nygren.
The Navajo Nation also received more than $2 billion in American Rescue Plan Act funds from the U.S. Treasury in 2021.
The funds are intended to support governmental efforts to respond to the health, social and economic impacts of COVID-19 suffered by residents and businesses in the Navajo Nation.
The executive branch has been working with the Council, Judicial Branch, Divisions, and Chapters, to develop plans and distribute the funds to provide relief and assistance for the Navajo people and communities.
The president issued a message to any potential dishonest contractors thinking of attempting to defraud the Navajo Nation.
“Don’t do it. If you enter into a contract, abide by your scope of work, tell the truth, be honest, be transparent, and do good work,” said President Nygren.