Wind River tribal leaders say they’ve reached an agreement with federal officials over problems raised in a report highlighting millions in misspent money.

The Eastern Shoshone and Northern Arapaho tribes’ Wind River Inter-Tribal Council said Tuesday that they’ve agreed to several fixes — including a more than $7,400 payment to the federal government — recommended by the Department of the Interior after its Office of Inspector General found last year that poor Bureau of Indian Affairs oversight permitted the two tribes to misspend $6.2 million in transportation money.

In a May 31 letter from the bureau, acting regional director Susan Messerly said the inter-tribal council had agreed to six of the seven recommendations the draft report listed to solve the problems.

The unresolved recommendation — requiring the reservation’s tribes to have an indirect cost rate, also known as administrative fees — is being negotiated and is expected to be settled this fall, according to Eastern Shoshone officials.

Once the problems were discovered Eastern Shoshone and Northern Arapaho business council officials took “immediate steps” to hold discussions, pass information to bureau officials and establish new practices, according to Eastern Shoshone officials.

“After the (Wind River Inter-Tribal Council) Transportation Commission reviewed the Department’s programmatic and financial documentation during this time period, we were confident that the issues uncovered in the OIG report and the plan that was created would resolve the issues without penalty to the tribes while setting the foundation for an accountable future,” Eastern Shoshone Business Council vice-chairman Leslie Shakespeare stated in a Tuesday news release. “It was never a question of ‘if’ but rather ‘when’.”

Report: Tribes misused $6.2 million

The fixes come about a year after the Office of Inspector General said in a draft report that the tribes had misspent the $6.2 million in transportation funding between 2013 and 2015.

One of the resolutions included reimbursing the federal government $7,422 for “unallowable costs,” according to the BIA’s letter.

Other fixes included establishing better accounting practices, training and accounting software to better track tribal transportation expenses.

The money was part of the two tribes’ 2013-2015 transportation contract.

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The office’s report found that the tribes had double-billed costs on expenses like utility and internet bills and spent about seven times more on equipment than the $500,000 allowed in the contract, among other problems. Tribal leaders have argued that they were allowed to spend up to $3.75 million on equipment.

The report also said the tribes’ accounting practices were insufficient to track spending of federal money. The office found that the tribes spent $3.3 million more in federal funds than the $9.9 million they told the Bureau of Indian Affairs they spent during the 2014 and 2015 fiscal years.

BIA to try to collect misspent Wind River funds

The office’s report also found that inadequate bureau auditing failed to catch errors in reports the tribes submitted to federal officials. In addition, reports submitted to the bureau as early as 2013 weren’t reviewed until the end of 2016.

For its failed oversight of the tribes’ spending, officials in the bureau’s Billings office received training on auditing practices of federal grants.

The bureau also plans new rules for contracts involving the tribes’ transportation program. It’s unclear if those new rules have been finalized or implemented.

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Chris Aadland covers the Wind River Reservation and tribal affairs for the Star-Tribune as a Report for America corps member. A Minnesota native, he spent the last two years reporting for the Wisconsin State Journal before moving to Wyoming in June 2019.

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