Tester Presses Administration on Public Safety in Indian Country, Law Enforcement Shortages

Senator grills officials on staffing shortages at BIA and IHS, cites impacts on public safety and health care for Tribal members

U.S. Senator Jon Tester today pressed top Indian Health Service and Interior Department officials on steps to address the public safety and public health crises facing Tribal communities.

During the hearing, Tester grilled Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs Bryan Newland on funding for the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) and emphasized the need to increase the number BIA law enforcement officers in Indian Country, especially on the Northern Cheyenne Reservation.

“It is clear we need more resources on the ground. We need more police officers. We need more people…” said Tester. “Northern Cheyenne may be the tip of the spear, but there’s problems in every [tribe]…if you’ve got a tribe that’s complaining about resources, at a bare minimum, you should look and see what the BIA’s spending before they took that contract over. Add some inflation, and get them the money because you can’t run a police department on air. It takes dollars, and it takes people.”

Tester also pressed Indian Health Service Director Roselyn Tso on staffing shortages at IHS, and highlighted the detrimental effects these shortages have on Tribal communities.

“It’s a crisis. What we need to know from you though is—we prioritize it—but what the hell does that mean? What are we doing to get people on board? And once again, not unlike law enforcement, if we need to be a help on this committee, tell us what we need to do so that you can bring more people onto Indian Health…I don’t need to give you the statistics on life span of Native Americans. It has to do with more than just health care, but health care is pretty fundamental. So this is important.” 

As the former Chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, Tester has consistently fought to provide Tribal governments and organizations with the resources they need to reduce crime and tackle the MMIP epidemic. In March, Tester introduced his bipartisan Strengthening Tribal Law Enforcement Act to recruit and retain tribal law enforcement by increasing the pay rates for BIA officers. He also led the Senate passage of Savanna’s Act and the Not Invisible Act, both of which were signed into law in October of 2020, improving information sharing and collaboration between Tribal and federal law enforcement agencies, and he has secured millions to enhance law enforcement, improve public safety, and support victims in Indian Country.

As a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, Tester is a tireless advocate for increasing funding for police and making sure Tribal law enforcement officers have the resources they need to keep communities safe. He recently secured more than $1 billion in critical funding for Tribal, local, state, and federal law enforcement and public safety programs in the 2023 government funding bill. Tester was the only member of the Montana delegation to support the bill.