• Text Resize A A A
  • Print Print
  • Share Share on facebook Share on twitter Share

Testimony from RADM Michael D. Weahkee, M.B.A., MHSA on S. 3100, the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium Land Transfer Act of 2019 before Senate Committee on Indian Affairs

S. 3100, the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium Land Transfer Act of 2019
Senate Committee on Indian Affairs
Wednesday, June 24, 2020 - 09:45

Chairman Hoeven, Vice-Chairman Udall, and Members of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs.  I am RADM Michael D. Weahkee, Director of the Indian Health Service (IHS).  Thank you for the opportunity to provide a statement for the record on S.3100, the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium Land Transfer Act, a bill to provide for the conveyance of certain property to the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium (ANTHC), aka the Consortium, located in Anchorage, Alaska.

The IHS mission is to raise the physical, mental, social, and spiritual health of American Indians and Alaska Natives (AIAN) to the highest level.  This mission is done in partnership with the AIAN communities we serve.  As an agency within the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), the IHS provides comprehensive health service delivery to approximately 2.6 million AIAN across 37 states and through a network of over 605 Federal and tribal health facilities including hospitals, clinics, and school health centers.  In addition, the IHS contracts with 41 Urban Indian Organizations that deliver health care services to AIAN urban populations.

S. 3100 would provide conveyance, by warranty deed, of certain property to the ANTHC, a tribal organization that has provided IHS-funded health care services since 1999 under the authority of the Indian Self-Determination and Education Assistance Act (ISDEAA).  The federal property described in S. 3100 would be used in connection with existing health programs in Anchorage, Alaska.  Under S. 3100, the Consortium would not provide the Federal Government with any consideration for the property and the Federal Government would not be able to impose any obligation, term, or condition on the Consortium with regard to the property.  In addition, the Federal Government would not retain any reversionary interest in the property.  It also would require completing the conveyance no later than 180 days from enactment of the bill.  HHS has determined this time frame would not provide sufficient time to fully complete the transfer.

S. 3100 would free the Consortium of any liability that it otherwise would have assumed for any environmental contamination that may have occurred on or before the date of the transfer.  Notably, S.3100 does not address liability during the period that the Consortium was using, occupying and/or managing the property prior to conveyance.

We have seen several bills of this sort move through Congress in recent years mandating transfer by warranty deed rather than by quitclaim deed, including S. 825, the Southeast Alaska Regional Health Consortium Land Transfer Act of 2017.  As with previous bills, HHS is concerned about the details of S. 3100.  Specifically, HHS does not prefer to make ISDEAA transfers by warranty deed as such deeds create the potential for liability if a competing property interest is subsequently discovered.  In addition, barring retention of a reversionary interest (as is the standard practice with transfers of property for ISDEAA purposes) deprives HHS a means to ensure the property will continue to be used for health services in furtherance of the purposes of this bill. 

With respect to environmental liability, S. 3100 does not protect HHS from liability for contamination that may have occurred subsequent to the time when administration of the facility was turned over to the Consortium.

With these concerns in mind, HHS supports the purposes of the bill to convey the property to the Consortium in order to facilitate providing improved health services to Alaska Natives.  We would like to work with the committee on technical changes to the bill to address the issues raised above.  We remain firmly committed to improving quality, safety, and access to health care for AIAN.  We appreciate all your efforts in helping us provide the best possible health care services to the people we serve.

Content created by Assistant Secretary for Legislation (ASL)
Content last reviewed on October 23, 2020