As the Eighth Osage Nation Congress entered the second week of the 2023 Tsi-Zho Session, several members voiced concern with the lack of financial documents needed to consider the 2024 government operations budgets.
Pending receipt and review of further financial information, several budget appropriation bills and related resolutions received postponement motions during Congressional committee meetings held during the first and second weeks of the 24-day fall session. On Sept. 11, members in the Appropriations Committee meeting said they could not refer Executive Branch budgets and other budget-related legislation requesting tribal funding for further action and those items are in a holding pattern.
In the interim, respective Congressional committees held scheduled meetings with department and administrative officials to consider scores of budgets across the three government branches and entities.
For the Congressional committee meetings, Acting Treasurer Tyler McIntosh is meeting with the committees, but informed the Appropriations Committee that he is simultaneously dealing with a family emergency, which his interrupted work on providing requested information and reports.
For example, the committee considered resolution ONCR 23-19, which is “a Resolution to approve a request for a 5% Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA) for ON Merited Employees,” but could not proceed as members requested financial information to determine the total cost of providing the salary increases to the employees.
“Is this a report that’s possible for you to send to us? We don’t have the information to be able to generate this report and I don’t think our budget analyst needs to be doing it when it was a request from executive (branch) to increase these salaries,” Congresswoman Whitney Red Corn asked McIntosh who attended the meeting virtually. “Having the report from executive would be appropriate in my opinion.”
“It is possible, I am working on that, I apologize to the committee,” McIntosh responded. “I had a personal matter come up last week, family health-related (hospitalization), and I was unable to work the latter part of the week. I will pick it up and get you that information request.”
“Thank you, Mr. McIntosh, I can appreciate the need to attend to your family and I’m glad you were afforded the opportunity to do so. When do you think we can get that report?” Red Corn said in follow-up to McIntosh. He responded he would work on the report after other scheduled Congressional committee meetings, as well as other information requests for the budget considerations.
Amid the information requests and McIntosh’s family situation, the Congress is on a deadline to approve the FY 2024 government budgets by Sept. 30 in time for the new fiscal year starting the next day.
Congressional Speaker Alice Goodfox acknowledged there are other budget-related committee meetings scheduled, but noted some meetings will not use their entire 1-4 hour durations on meeting notices depending on number of agenda items. “All the reports that this committee is requesting – It’s prudent that we get them because without the numbers, we’re not able to make decisions and this is the committee where the decisions regarding the numbers are going to have to be made,” Goodfox said.
Congresswoman Jodie Revard, who chairs the Appropriations Committee, asked fellow committee members what other information is needed to proceed. She also noted there are other salary-related bills to increase the Nation’s government employees minimum wage and merit-based increases aside from the 5% COLA request.
“Every one of you know the largest costs to our government is salary, fringe and (indirect costs) and I’m not saying that our (employees) don’t deserve this, but I feel like it needs to be talked about because we’re over projected revenue,” Revard said of pending budgets and funding requests. “We’re going to be working like this and stuck on topics until we get information.”
Revard said financial information requests to McIntosh included the indirect cost agreement, number of new employee positions for FY 2024, the cost to implement the 5% COLA to employees, fringe costs, and revolving fund balances, which include those for the health benefit, burial assistance and higher education scholarships.
As of Sept. 14, Revard said Congress was continuing to send the information requests from the Executive Branch. The Appropriations Committee next meets on Sept. 18 to continue considering several budgetary legislation items.
Congresswoman Paula Stabler also acknowledged the committee concerns. “We still cannot see the bigger picture, we don’t have good oversight of what it is we’re dealing with, we need the contracts for all of the projects, we need the reports regarding all the wages … and they’re over projection (revenue amount for FY 24), we’ve gone through this every year that I have been here. And then we try to negotiate how we’re going to make this fit, but this is all just an exercise in futility. In the end, we have to decide what to do. I’m willing to give them (executive branch) the benefit of the doubt right now that they have the information and if they provide it, we can get on with the show, but if not then it’s going to be up to us … I understand the personal issues that are going on with the Treasurer, I sympathize and understand that, but let’s get back to work and whether it’s on our side or the other side, let’s both get back to work,” Stabler said.
Revard asked McIntosh if Congress can do anything else to help with operations and requests. McIntosh responded: “I appreciate the statements; I feel we are many steps ahead of where we were last year (pending audits at the time). We are working on reestablishing different lines of structure and one thing – when you’re on the operational side, you are responsible for operations, you have to continue to ensure operations maintain, keep going while at the same time infuse change into that so that it doesn’t impact operations.”
McIntosh continued, stating “we’re developing and redesigning responsibilities within the Treasury Department and when you do that, you have to step through it, you cannot ‘up and pull the carpet up’ as people say and rearrange … Do we still have room to improve? Yes, always and we’re trying to make those changes to improve. I will work on the information … I did work on them all last week, like I said, up until Wednesday evening and even in the hospital, I was answering questions via my phone. If you feel like there’s a lack of effort, if you feel like there’s a lack of coordination in our office, I do not see that.”
Stabler responded: “Please don’t misunderstand those statements, Tyler, I’m not criticizing the work you’ve done, I’ve always been really supportive on the accomplishments that you’ve made, I’m saying in this particular situation, we are no better off than we’ve been in the past because of the (budget and funding) requests and needing the information that we need.”
Other Congressional select and standing committees continued to meet during session to consider the various FY 2024 government budgets with respective Executive Branch officials and department directors.
For more Congressional information on sessions, committees and to view filed legislative bills/ resolutions, visit the Legislative Branch website at: https://www.osagenation-nsn.gov/who-we-are/legislative-branch