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Tuesday, January 24, 2012

U.S. Supreme Court Takes on Contracts in Salazar v. Raman Navajo Chapter

Ken_Salazar_official_DOI_portraitOn January 6th, the U.S. Supreme Court granted the petition for certiorari in Salazar v. Ramah Navajo Chapter.  SCOTUSblog provides a summary of the issues here and provides links to key documents in the case here.  The Petition for Certiorari, filed by Ken Salazar, Secreatry of the Interior (pictured), articulates the issue in the case as follows:

Whether the government is required to pay all of the contract support costs incurred by a tribal contractor under the Indian Self-Determination and Education As- sistance Act, 25 U.S.C. 450 et seq., where Congress has imposed an express statutory cap on the appropriations available to pay such costs and the Secretary cannot pay all such costs for all tribal contractors without exceeding the statutory cap.

SCOTUSblog's Lyle Denniston provides the following summary of the issues:

The Indian case, a petition by the federal Interior Department, involves a 1975 federal law that Congress passed to give Indian tribes a greater role in running government programs for the benefit of tribal members.  The law, the Indian Self-Determination and Education Assistance Act, allows Indian tribes to contract with the Interior Department to take over operation of a federal program or service, with Interior to put up the money that the government would have spent itself on that activity.   In 1988, Congress also provided that Interior must also provide funds to pay the administrative costs that the tribe incurs in operating the program, such as audit or reporting duties, and general overhead.

That separate funding provision, however, is made contingent upon Congress providing the necessary appropriations to pay for it.  And, in 1999, Congress provided that there would be caps on the amount of contract support costs that Interior would cover for a tribe.  Congress has imposed such caps for each of the past 15 years.

The issue in the newly granted case, Salazar v. Ramah Navajo Chapter (11-551), is whether the government must pay everything that it has promised in such a contract with a tribe, including support costs, without regard to whether that goes beyond a cap imposed by Congress — provided that the government can find the money elsewhere in the government.  The Interior Department’s petition urged the Court to take the case and rule that Interior cannot be required to pay tribes beyond what the cap allows because that intrudes upon Congress’s constitutional authority to decide when and how to spend federal money.

In the programs at issue specifically in the case, the Ramah Navajo Chapter, the Oglala Sioux Tribe, and the Pueblo of Zuni had a contract with Interior to operate for tribal members a series of federal programs: for law enforcement, court operation, education assistance, land management, probate assistance, natural resource services, employment aid, child welfare assistance, operation of emergency youth centers, and juvenile detention services.  The tribes sued over unpaid direct contract support costs for the fiscal years 1994 through 2001, in which congressional caps were in place.

We look forward to following this case.  If anybody out there among our readers is knowledgeable about the case and would like to guest post, please get in touch, as none of us on the blog is an expert in this area.

[JT]

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