What is OIG's work in Indian Country?
Curt Muller, an OIG investigator in the Special Investigations Branch , is interviewed by Tyler Daniels, a public affairs specialist in Washington DC.
[Tyler Daniels] HHS programs benefit 2.2 million American Indians and Alaska Natives, in 567 tribes, throughout 37 states. But what role does the HHS Inspector General play in these communities? That's what we're talking about today. I'm Tyler Daniels and welcome to the HHS IG's podcast.
The largest program serving Indians within HHS is the Indian Health Service, which has nearly a $5 Billion dollar budget. Other HHS funding is allocated through grant programs to tribes throughout the United States from agencies such as the Administration for Children and Families and National Institutes of Health.
[Curt Muller] A unique government-to-government relationship exists between Indian Tribes and the Federal Government. This relationship is grounded in numerous treaties, statutes, Federal case law, and regulations.
[Tyler Daniels] That's OIG Inspector, Curt Muller of the OIG Special Investigations Branch. He joined me from Sioux Falls South Dakota. Curt, what types of cases does OIG investigate in Indian country? Can you give us some recent examples of how OIG works these cases?
[Curt Muller] OIG focuses its work in Indian country to protect tribal members and to ensure HHS program funds are used appropriately. Many tribal members live in rural communities with high unemployment rates, lack of sufficient infrastructure, and inadequate transportation. In such, a lot of the cases we investigate are related to Indian Health Service employee misconduct, misconduct of beneficiaries, and fraudulent use of grant funds. Related to programs in the Administration for Children and Families.
[Tyler Daniels] These are programs such as the Low Income Housing Energy Assistance Program, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, and Head Start.
[Curt Muller] Now, specifically we investigate such things as theft of prescription medications in IHS facilities, theft of grant funds by tribal leaders or program directors, and misuse of HHS program funds.
[Tyler Daniels] There are several different avenues for tribes to receive Federal funds how does this impact the OIG role of protecting the integrity of these funds?
[Curt Muller] Now HHS funds are distributed to the various tribes and their members in a number of ways including direct block grants, block grants to the states, and contracts and compacts with the Indian Health Service.
[Tyler Daniels] Many of these funds also cross paths as they come from various HHS programs for the same function. As an example, IHS is able to bill for Medicare and Medicaid to supplement their discretionary funding.
[Curt Muller] This requires us to looks at multiple HHS funding sources within IHS.
[Tyler Daniels] How is OIG's work in Indian country evolving for the future?
[Curt Muller] The Office of Investigations continues to engage in proactive reviews of various grant programs that have a major impact on tribal members in Indian country.
[Tyler Daniels] OIG's Office of Investigations is aided by staff with our Office of Audit Services and Office of Evaluations and Inspections. Past work that OIG has done, specifically in the state of Montana, has involved an Indian country grant fraud initiative.
[Curt Muller] With this initiative, we have multiple OIGs that are involved with providing assistance to root out waste, fraud and abuse within US department of health programs. And future work that we continue to do is to look at performance improvement in IHS hospitals, dealing with root causes analysis, a study of IHS in poorly performing hospitals, hospital oversight, and also charge card program review which would be specific to the Indian Health Service.
[Tyler Daniels] And what resources are available for members for tribes, for more information on OIG's efforts regarding Indian country?
[Curt Muller] The HHS OIG website at OIG.HHS.GOV
[Tyler Daniels] That gives some background on some of OIG's investigations and program work.
[Curt Muller] In addition we have tribal outreach initiatives, including OIG staff being present for HHS tribal consultations, training sessions for tribal leaders and employees regarding billing and compliance, tribal listening sessions and individual one on one outreach with tribal leaders, and elders regarding specific topics. And I would also like to add, if there is fraud that is identified within programs within HHS, we have an OIG fraud hotline
[Tyler Daniels] That hotline would be 1800 HHS TIPS.
[Curt Muller] or 1800 447 8477.
[Tyler Daniels] Well Special Agent Curt Muller thank you so much for your time today.
[Curt Muller] Thank you.
[Tyler Daniels] That's OIG Inspector, Curt Muller of the OIG Special Investigations Branch, speaking about OIG's work in Indian country. You can learn more about our work at oig.hhs.gov. I'm Tyler Daniels and thanks for listening.