Feds pick director to run troubled Indian education agency

AP News
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Posted: Nov 02, 2016 10:04 AM

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — Federal officials named a new director Wednesday to head a troubled agency that funds and manages scores of schools for Native American students and has been beset by scandal, funding shortfalls and safety hazards at the facilities.

Interior Secretary Sally Jewell named Tony Dearman, who is Cherokee, to head the Bureau of Indian Education, a division of the U.S. Interior Department that has oversight of nearly 200 schools in some 20 states.

The bureau has faced scrutiny after a government watchdog report said in March that officials had failed to ensure regular inspections were carried out at dozens of schools, where safety hazards ranged from exposed electrical wires and broken windows to a natural gas leak.

At one school, Government Accountability Office investigators found four aging dormitory boilers failed an inspection and were blamed for high carbon monoxide levels and a natural gas leak but weren't repaired until about eight months later.

The department has received more than $100 million in funding this year to begin bringing buildings to code and replace others altogether.

Dearman, an associate deputy director of the Bureau of Indian Education, takes his new job six months after the agency's former director was demoted amid allegations that he used his influence to get jobs for a close relative and a woman with whom he had a romantic relationship.

Charles "Monty" Roessel, the former director, resigned after the Interior Department's Office of Inspector General found that he helped the woman secure multiple jobs and that he proposed a new position for an educational employee on the Navajo Nation that his relative was appointed to fulfill.

Dearman's appointment coincides with that of Weldon "Bruce" Loudermilk, a veteran Interior Department staffer who has been named as the replacement for Bureau of Indian Affairs Director Michael Black, who will remain a part of the BIA's senior leadership from Billings, Montana, officials said.

"Bruce and Tony bring talent and experience as managers of Indian Affairs offices and programs and will be advocates for federally recognized tribes, playing critical roles in carrying out our trust and treaty obligations, and furthering our commitment to tribal self-governance and self-determination," Jewell said in a statement.

She said it was important to have leadership in place to manage the United States' "nation-to-nation" relationships with tribes as the transition to a new presidential administration.

Dearman and Loudermilk's posts are senior career positions not influenced by changes in administrations, said Jessica Kershaw, an Interior Department spokeswoman. Both will report to Larry Roberts, Interior's principal deputy assistant secretary for Indian Affairs whose position is subject to political appointment.

Loudermilk, who is enrolled in the Fort Peck Assiniboine and Sioux Tribes in Montana, will leave his post in Alaska, where he has been the Bureau of Indian Affairs regional director since 2014.

Officials said Dearman's appointment as Indian Education director came after he helped the agency reorganize to give tribes more control of their local schools.

The federally run schools serve 47,000 Native American children mostly on rural reservations.