A U.S. Senator has asked the Office of Inspector General to review a data breach involving tribal information as well as potential conflicts of interest by Assistant Secretary - Indian Affairs Tara Sweeney, shown above. (Native News File Photo)

SANTA FE, N.M. — U.S. Senator Tom Udall (D-N.M.), vice chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, on Wednesday sent a letter to formally request official reviews by the Office of Inspector General (OIG) for both the Department of the Treasury and the Department of the Interior into concerns raised by tribal governments related to the Trump administration’s handling of COVID-19 relief funding for tribes.

Udall sent a letter to both federal departments on Wednesday, outlining two concerns. 

The first concern involves the breached data from information supplied by tribes and Alaska Native Corporations to the U.S. Department of Treasury and the U.S. Department of the Interior for Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act funds on April 17.

Sen. Tom Udall, vice chairman, U.S. Senate Committee on Indian Affairs

The second concern Udall wants investigated is Assistant Interior Secretary – Indian Affairs Tara Sweeney’s potential conflict of interest in determining the federal distribution process for the CARES Act $8 billion Coronavirus Relief Fund set aside for tribal governments.

Sweeney, who is a former vice president and current shareholder of an Alaska Native Corporation, provided input on behalf of the Interior Department’s recommendation to the U.S. Department of Treasury’s decision to deem Alaska Native Corporations (ANCs) eligible for CARES Act funds.

In his letter, Udall welcomed the OIG’s ongoing, active pursuit of information related to both matters and asked the officials to provide information to the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs as the process moves forward. This requested information will assist Congress as it undertakes its own oversight work of CARES Act implementation.

“It has been widely reported that sensitive Tribal data submitted to U.S. Treasury Department's Coronavirus Relief Fund Web portal was disseminated outside of the Executive Branch,” Udall wrote. “Tribal governments submitted this proprietary data to the portal for the purpose of aiding their communities during the COVID-19 pandemic, with the expectation that it would be kept and maintained in confidence. The administration  - as a trustee  - has a duty to be a good steward of any resources Tribes place in its hands, including data. In the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, Tribal communities must have the confidence that information submitted for the purposes of aiding their communities is carefully protected.”

Udall continued, “Numerous Tribal leaders and organizations have expressed concern that the Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs, Tara Katuk Mac Lean Sweeney, may have conflicts of interest and/or failed to comply with federal ethics laws and regulations relating to her involvement in determining Tribal eligibility for the CRF funding. In addition to your review, I ask that any Departmental ethics guidance and/or waivers granted to Ms. Sweeney related to her potential financial conflicts of interest, direct or imputed to her, be made available to the Committee.

“As a central pillar of the federal government's coronavirus pandemic relief for Indian Country, the administration and allocation of CRF to Indian Country must be done quickly, without bias, and without the appearance of any impropriety. I appreciate that your offices are taking these concerns seriously and actively pursuing them,” Udall concluded.

Native News Online reached out to the Treasury and Interior for comment, but has not heard back from either.  This story will be updated if either department responds.

A copy of Udall’s letter can be found here and below:

Dear Inspectors General Greenblatt and Delmar:

My office has received concerning reports regarding the Departments of Treasury and the Interior's administration of the CARES Act Title V Coronavirus Relief Fund (CRF) Tribal set-aside. I write today to request your full review of two issues raised by those reports.

First, it has been widely reported that sensitive Tribal data submitted to U.S. Treasury Department's Coronavirus Relief Fund Web portal was disseminated outside of the Executive Branch. Tribal governments submitted this proprietary data to the portal for the purpose of aiding their communities during the COVID-19 pandemic, with the expectation that it would be kept and maintained in confidence. The administration  - as a trustee  - has a duty to be a good steward of any resources Tribes place in its hands, including data. In the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, Tribal communities must have the confidence that information submitted for the purposes of aiding their communities is carefully protected.

Second, numerous Tribal leaders and organizations have expressed concern that the Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs, Tara Katuk Mac Lean Sweeney, may have conflicts of interest and/or failed to comply with federal ethics laws and regulations relating to her involvement in determining Tribal eligibility for the CRF funding. In addition to your review, I ask that any Departmental ethics guidance and/or waivers granted to Ms. Sweeney related to her potential financial conflicts of interest, direct or imputed to her, be made available to the Committee.

As a central pillar of the federal government's coronavirus pandemic relief for Indian Country, the administration and allocation of CRF to Indian Country must be done quickly, without bias, and without the appearance of any impropriety. I appreciate that your offices are taking these concerns seriously and actively pursuing them.

Please keep my office and all other members of the Committee, on a bipartisan basis, updated as related inquiries proceed. 

Sincerely,

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