Charles “Monty” Roessel, Navajo, was removed from his position as director of the Bureau of Indian Education on March 30.
The demotion followed the release of a report from the Interior Department’s Office of Inspector General that found Roessel had abused his position to intervene in the hiring of a woman with whom he was “rumored to be having a romantic relationship” and in the hiring of a relative.
During the OIG investigation, Roessel acknowledged that he was involved in the hiring of a woman as a program analyst and that they had an “intimate” relationship that began before Roessel became BIE director and before she was hired at BIE.
A BIE human resources official said Roessel had asked that the job description for the program analyst position be modified. The official, according to the report, said “he recalled Roessel coming to him sometime in 2013 because Roessel wanted to hire someone for a certain position, but the person he had in mind (who turned out to be the program analyst) did not fit the original position description. That position description required the candidate to have experience that Roessel felt was unnecessary for the position and that the program analyst did not have. Roessel told the HR official that he did not think the position should require this experience, so he suggested the description be changed. The HR official agreed, the position description and job category were changed, and the program analyst was ultimately hired.”
However, the official “said that at no point during this process did Roessel intervene or request that he give the program analyst any preferential treatment, nor did he ever feel pressure from Roessel to select her,” according to the OIG’s report.
Roessel was also accused of using his position to make sure a relative was hired by the Navajo school system, an allegation that OIG wrote he admitted. “Roessel … said that he intervened in his relative’s hiring process to make sure she got a position she had applied for in the Navajo school system.”
The Office of Inspector General initiated the investigation in June 2014 following a complaint from a BIE official alleging that Roessel had used his position inappropriately to hire two people. The office concluded that Roessel’s actions in regard to the hirings appeared to have violated several federal regulations, including prohibitions against granting preference to a job applicant, using public office for private gain and hiring relatives. OIG wrote, “In addition, Roessel and the BIE program analyst provided inconsistent statements in their responses to our questions and caused us to doubt their overall truthfulness and candor.”
Former DOI Assistant Secretary—Indian Affairs Kevin Washburn, Chickasaw, named Roessel director of BIE in December 2013; he had served as acting director since February 2012.
The BIE oversees the education of 47,000 American Indian/Alaska Native students at 183 BIE- and tribally-operated schools and dormitories. Ann Marie Bledsoe Downes, a deputy assistant secretary in the Department of the Interior, will take over as acting director of the agency, AP reports.
BIE has been the subject of many highly-critical GAO and OIG reports, as well as of oversight hearings conducted by the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs. The reports have consistently found financial mismanagement, appalling conditions at BIE schools and dormitories, and a widespread lack of training and supervision of staff. AI/AN children attending BIE schools are among those with the lowest achievement test scores and lowest graduation rates in the country. The agency is in the midst of a reorganization aimed at turning over more BIE schools to tribal control.