Tester blasts Indian Health Service for ‘culture of incompetence’

Outraged, Senator tells IHS director his agency ‘has a problem’

(WASHINGTON, D.C.) – An outraged Senator Jon Tester today turned up the heat on the Indian Health Service, saying the federal agency's "culture of incompetence" is failing Indian Country. 

Tester put IHS Director Robert McSwain on the hot seat during a Senate Indian Affairs hearing this morning.  The hearing was called in response to a recent investigation by the non-partisan Government Accountability Office (GAO), which says the IHS lost thousands of pieces of equipment including vehicles, computers and cameras valued at nearly $16 million—then tried to cover it up.

"This gives government a bad name," Tester told McSwain.  "When I go home and people tell me about how ineffective government is, I'm offended.  But you know what?  When I hear about stuff like what's in this report, I can't blame them.  Quite frankly, I'm offended by this kind of incompetence."

IHS is often criticized as an agency because it continually runs out of money to provide health care to families on Indian reservations across the nation.  Last week's GAO report blamed IHS' recent troubles on management "at the top."

Tester has become a leading voice for honesty, integrity and accountability in government since joining the Senate last year.   He said tribal leaders continually tell him adequate health care is the most important issue facing Montana's Indian people.

"This is another example of why we need to completely overhaul the Indian Health Service to ensure it truly does improve healthcare for American Indians," Tester said. "Essentially, this looks like the government stealing even more money from the most poverty-stricken population in our country."

Tester said he expects the IHS to implement all 10 short-term recommendations by the GAO report, including:

  • Updating IHS equipment inventories.
  • Placing bar codes on all IHS equipment.
  • Investigating all reports of stolen or missing equipment.

"Here's the bottom line: do you admit that you have a problem?" Tester asked McSwain.  "I hope you do, because you can't fix the problem unless you admit you have a problem.  And the GAO report should tell you, Mr. McSwain, that you have a problem."