Navajo officials say the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs, the federal Indian Health Service and even tribal agencies should do more to help make the reservation's 217 Navajo-owned small businesses successful.
Al Henderson, chief tribal economic-development officer, said nearly a quarter-billion dollars spent each year for goods and services on the sprawling Navajo Reservation is going to non-Indian businesses.He said studies have shown that only about 10 percent of the federal and tribal agencies' spending is going to Navajo-owned businesses.
"This means that $225 million of contracts and subcontracts that could go to the Navajo Nation businesses continues to go off reservation, despite the fact that the Navajo Nation has a business-preference law," he said.
The tribe has passed several Navajo-preference laws in the past 20 years, and the IHS and the BIA have similar policies that require contracts to go to Navajo firms even if their bids are higher than those of non-Indian firms.
In most cases, the government agencies are required to give the contracts to Navajo firms if their bids are within 10 percent of the lowest bid made by a non-Indian firm.
Henderson said Navajo businessmen are complaining that the laws are not being followed.
BIA and IHS officials Wednesday said that the two federal agencies do follow federal regulations but that in many cases, bids from Navajo firms exceed the 10 percent limitation or the agencies feel that Navajo firms cannot meet the standards set by contracts.
Henderson said he thinks one problem is that the tribe does not make purchasers of goods aware that tribal law requires the agencies to support Navajo-owned businesses.