If ever a federal agency were a candidate for termination, the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) would make for a good choice. The BIA combines patronage, outright corruption and ethnic separatism into a single package, wasting sizable tax dollars in the process. Yet few in Congress have the stomach for a fight with supporters of the bureau, now with a roughly $2.7 billion annual budget. That's not the only Indian agency in need of serious downsizing.
Demanding reparations from the federal government is now a growth industry. And Congress just helped it grow some more. Yesterday the House of Representatives voted 256-152 to authorize $4.55 billion to settle a pair of unrelated longstanding class-action lawsuits, one against the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the other against the Department of the Interior. In the first case, tens of thousands of black farmers - or at least blacks claiming to have been farmers - will receive $1.15 billion for alleged discrimination during 1981-96 at the hands of administrators of USDA aid programs, but who filed (or could have filed) claims after the deadline. This would be on top of the more than $1 billion that over 15,000 other plaintiffs have received. In the second case, an estimated 300,000 to 500,000 Indians will receive access to a $3.4 billion trust fund intended to rectify alleged Interior Department mishandling of royalty payments for the extraction of oil, gas, timber and other natural resources from tribal lands for economic activity. The Senate on November 19 unanimously had approved the settlements.