BIA may move regional office out of Juneau

Up to 24 jobs likely to leave city as well

Posted: Wednesday, July 11, 2007

The Bureau of Indian Affairs' regional office and as many as two dozen employees will likely leave the capital and move to Anchorage, Regional Director Niles Cesar said.

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"I don't think there is any doubt about the regional office being moved and that would mean my immediate office," he said.

Cesar said he assumes he will be relocated to Anchorage, where he already has an office, by the end of the current fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30.

More than half of his 41 employees likely would relocate to Anchorage over the next couple of years to make their duties more efficient and cost-effective, he said.

Cesar described the BIA as being a "mini government," which provides educational, social, housing, transportation and government services to tribes. The region has a roughly $110 million annual budget and nearly 130 employees in Alaska, he said.

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"We want to look at each individual function to determine where it can be best delivered from," he said of the BIA positions in Juneau. "A preliminary look says that that number is 18 or less (to stay), but we're not settling on a number for at least another year and a half."

After learning of the move several weeks ago, Juneau Assembly member Randy Wanamaker invited Cesar to speak before the Assembly on Monday night.

"I think that this is a real wake-up call for this community," Wanamaker said. "We are seeing government jobs leaving Juneau."

With the Alaska Legislature holding a special session in Anchorage last month and the continued loss of well-paying government jobs, the community should stay alert, he said.

"Our job base is being eroded away by 'capital creep,'" Wanamaker said. "It's not 'capital move' anymore, it's capital creep. ... Juneau has a different type of fight on its hands now."

Cesar, a lifelong Juneau resident, said it is not a surprise that the regional office likely will relocate. He said it has been a recommendation that goes back to at least 1980 and has nothing to do with any capital creep conspiracy.

"That was never the thought process and it certainly isn't turning out that way," Cesar said. "We have tried to look at this thing according to function and from a functional perspective of what works best."

There are 231 federally recognized tribes in Alaska that the regional office oversees, with only 20 tribes being located within Southeast, Cesar said. There are heavy costs associated with traveling from Juneau to Anchorage and then on to Interior Alaska.

"Not only is it for us so that we can keep our costs down ... the savings also comes for the tribes," Cesar said. "It costs them money to travel around. If they can visit with us in Anchorage, it makes it cheaper for them."

Plus, the Juneau BIA office is the only U.S. Department of Interior regional office outside of Anchorage, he said.

The number of BIA employees in Alaska has dropped dramatically over the years. At one point, there were more than 1,300 employees in the Last Frontier, Cesar said. Many of the functions that were performed by BIA employees are now contracted out to the tribes.

Juneau also has seen a dramatic reduction of BIA employees over the years, Cesar said. In 1980 it had more than 300 employees in Juneau, but by 1990, there were about 175, he said.

It is presently unclear how many employees will leave Juneau and relocate to Anchorage, Cesar said. As many as eight could be eligible for retirement and choose to stay in the capital, while others may choose to relocate, he said.

"It can change dramatically," Cesar said.

The economic impact also could vary, with salaries ranging from $25,000 to more than $100,000 for the positions that could leave Juneau.

The community needs to be focused and work hard to maintain the government jobs in Juneau to help combat capital creep, Wanamaker said.

"It's clear to me that because of this and other things that are happening with capital creep, Juneau really needs to protect its economic base," he said. "Having a mix of government and nongovernment jobs is one of the best ways we can do that."

• Eric Morrison can be reached at 523-2269 or by e-mail at eric.morrison@juneauempire.com..



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