The Osage Nation must reimburse the federal government

The Osage Nation must reimburse the federal government for $666,000 in grant money, according to a letter from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, because it isn't complying with grant requirements.

The letter, addressed to Osage Nation Principal Chief Jim Gray, was received by the tribe in mid-March and includes a list of recommendations that the Nation needs to meet. The list, which stretches 20 pages, also alleges that a 2005 audit revealed fraud in expenses charged to a homeowner’s rehabilitation program and a housing improvement program with grant funds from 2004 and 2005.

The list acknowledges that some noncompliances have since been corrected but gives a list of other recommendations to follow to comply with HUD regulations.

Gray said he has directed his staff to work with the Nation’s Housing Department to follow HUD’s recommendations.

“We didn’t know we were behind (on the requirements) when we got the letter,” Gray said May 8. He said that a combination of miscommunication and items sent to the wrong parties led to the noncompliances, but that the HUD concerns are being handled.

The HUD letter serves as a warning letter, with the recommended corrective measures accompanying it.

HUD’s Oklahoma City Field Office said an August 2007 monitoring review of the Nation’s implementation of the Indian Housing Block Grants (IHBG) and the Indian Community Development Block Grants resulted in seven corrective actions being identified and issued in November 2008. The Southern Plains Office of Native American Programs (SPONAP) conducted the review.

The Nation has since corrected two of the measures, but has requested extensions to finish meeting the remaining five recommendations.

Gray said about 90 percent of the HUD corrective actions have been addressed.

Osage Nation Congress Speaker Archie Mason, whose office also received a copy of the HUD letter in March, said the Executive Branch advised him that its officials would be responding to HUD’s letter and requests.

Included in HUD’s corrective actions:

  • The Nation must provide evidence that it has obtained “binding useful life commitments” from all participants assisted with IHBG funds.
  • The Nation must submit documentation that it attempted to obtain a cooperative agreement with the Osage County Government as part of an IHBG recommendation to establish a cooperation agreement with a local governing entity.
  • The Nation must provide current, complete and accurate records to support the remaining balance of grant funds.
  • The Nation must provide documentation to SPONAP that IHBG funds have been obligated for eligible activities.

The letter states a 2005 audit on an IHBG grant showed it had a remaining balance of $666,364 and that figure should have been included in the following year’s audits until all funds were expended and audited. As a result of the failure of the Nation for not supplying requested information, SPONAP requested that the $666,364 be reimbursed by February 2008, but “as of this letter, there had been no reconciliation of expenditures or repayment of funds.”

Housing Department Executive Director Dawna Bowman was carbon copied on the HUD letter to Gray. She did not respond to a request for comment before the Osage News went to press.

Gray would not say whether personnel changes were made in the Housing Department as a result of the letter. He said he did not know a target date for when all of the corrected measures would be filled by the Nation.