Sullivan, Murkowski Call for Five Year Tribal BABA Waiver

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), vice chairman of the U.S. Senate Committee on Indian Affairs (SCIA), and U.S. Senator Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska) sent a letter to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) expressing their concern with the implementation of the Build America, Buy America (BABA) Act and the impact on infrastructure development in Native communities.

In the letter, the senators note that Native communities continue to face challenges with infrastructure construction due to a lack of contractors, remote geography, and ongoing supply chain issues, and that these challenges will only be exacerbated by the implementation of the BABA mandate. Murkowski and Sullivan urge OMB to issue a 5-year waiver of the Buy America preferences for all federal financial assistance to Tribes for infrastructure projects. 

“Alaska is home to some of America’s most economically disadvantaged and infrastructure poor communities, where multiple generations of families often have to reside in the same home due to the severe lack of affordable housing,” said Sen. Sullivan. “I generally support efforts to buy and hire American when administering federal resources, but those rules must account for remote communities with extremely limited workforces and strained supply chains, while abiding by the federal government’s trust responsibility to indigenous Americans. Without a waiver, these one-size-fits-all requirements will prolong delays and hike costs for tribes and communities that simply can’t afford either. Sen. Murkowski and I urge OMB to extend these waivers and work with our Alaska Native leaders toward a feasible and just implementation of these BABA provisions in their communities.”

“Native communities – particularly those in Alaska – face incredible challenges when it comes to improving and developing infrastructure, especially when it comes to safe, affordable housing. Alaska’s barging and building seasons are shorter, the price of supplies are higher, geography is more vast, and securing a work force is often more challenging. Driven by feedback from Tribal leaders, I’m calling on OMB to ensure that waivers are in place to provide the greatest opportunity for Tribal flexibility during the implementation of the BABA Act,” said Vice Chairman Murkowski. “Numerous members of the Alaska State Legislature, both Democrats and Republicans, have also requested relief from BABA for Tribal housing. The need is evident. We must ensure that the added challenges faced by remote and rural communities do not stand in the way of Tribes using the BABA Act to gain the support that Congress intended.”

"NAIHC applauds the efforts of Senator Murkowski and Senator Sullivan in advocating for a 5-year Tribal waiver under the Build America, Buy America Act. An extended waiver would uphold the guiding principles of sovereignty and self-determination and allow time for meaningful government-to-government consultation on the initiative. We stand united with Senator Murkowski and Senator Sullivan in this thoughtful approach to infrastructure development that is both inclusive and respectful of Tribal autonomy,” said Sami Jo Difuntorum, Vice Chair of NAIHC's Board of Directors.

"Tlingit Haida Regional Housing Authority sincerely appreciates Senator Murkowski and Senator Sullivan’s proactive approach in spearheading this congressional letter to the Biden Administration. The letter requests an extension of time to thoroughly assess the implementation of the BABA and to strike a balance between addressing the critical need for affordable housing in our tribal communities and advancing the overarching goals of this vital national initiative, aimed at bolstering our manufacturing industry across the country," said Jaqueline Pata, President & Chief Executive Officer of Tlingit Haida Regional Housing Authority (THRHA).

“Cook Inlet Housing Authority strongly supports rebuilding the nation’s manufacturing base, but the implementation timeline for BABA has dramatically outpaced our economy's ability to supply the materials needed to build affordable homes today. Without this waiver, cost increases from supply shortages and a fundamental inability to source materials will delay critically needed housing for elders, children, and families in Tribal communities, where families are seven times more likely to live in overcrowded conditions and five times more likely to have inadequate plumbing, kitchen, or heating systems. Rushing to implement BABA in a manner that jeopardizes or delays new housing in Tribal communities would be short-sighted and counterproductive. Cook Inlet Housing Authority is grateful that Congressional leaders heard our concerns and have urged OMB to implement a temporary pause to BABA implementation while our manufacturing and supply chains ramp up to meet BABA requirements,” said Gabe Layman, President and CEO of Cook Inlet Housing Authority.

“AAHA would like to thank Senators Murkowski and Sullivan for their urgency regarding the Build America, Buy America Act and the looming implications for members and the families of the 196 Tribes they represent.  A 5-year waiver would enable Tribes to collaborate with HUD and other Federal Agencies to develop necessary tools, clear guidance, and capacity-building mechanisms to comply with BABA.  We appreciate our Delegation’s responsiveness to our concerns and their efforts in urging the Office of Management and Budget to take action,”said Griffin Hagle, Executive Director of the Association of Alaska Housing Authorities.

Full text of the letter can be found here.