Overcoming Challenges to Business and Economic Development in Indian Country. Measuring BD/ED Success


Discussions with tribal officials and reviews of available reports of tribal enterprises indicate that few tribes have integrated formal monitoring and assessment with their planning and management of tribal BD/ED. Measuring the success of individual business efforts differs from assessing progress in achieving tribal BD/ED goals and objectives, but both types of analysis are needed for continuous improvement of tribal initiatives.

It is easier to assess the performance of a business than that of overall BD/ED planning and activities. As with most business, the performance of individual tribal businesses is measured in terms of return on investment, profitability, sales growth, and worker productivity. While this information may be available in annual reports or other documents, its use is generally limited to individual business owners/managers and investors. At the tribal level, each of the tribes/Native corporations produces annual financial statements prepared by independent certified public accountants. Such financial statements, which are required of all recipients of federal funds, provide detailed information on the investments of the tribe/Native corporation, and the expected and actual expenses, revenues, profits, and losses for each line of investment. However, none of the tribes used comprehensive measures of BD/ED success, such as the gross domestic product output generated through production by labor and property that is physically located within the confines of the reservation (or other political entity), the number of persons employed by tribal enterprises or tribally supported business, the wages paid by such businesses and enterprises, or the return on investments made by the tribe.

Process measures were more commonly used by tribes/Native corporations to monitor BD/ED planning activities. Tribes/Native corporations tracked adherence to schedules and percent completion of specified tasks such as conducting community meetings to describe plans and obtain feedback, conducting market surveys, developing staffing plans, and estimating start-up costs, facilities, materials, and equipment needed. For example, both Colville and Three Affiliated Tribes have implemented a five-year planning process, and planning efforts are evaluated with respect to adherence to schedules. In some cases (such as Mississippi Choctaw, Gila River) growth of the tribal economy has been so great and fast that there has been little time or perceived need to measure the quality of planning and implementation. Nevertheless, rapid growth without detailed planning can create problems and waste resources. One tribe addressed the housing shortage on the reservation by constructing over 100 residential homes per year  a threefold increase. However, because of a lapse in planning, some houses did not get utility hookups for several months.

Since the expansion of tribal BD/ED activity has occurred mostly in the past 10 years, it is not surprising that measurement and evaluation are not fully developed and used for planning purposes. Some tribes have developed formal planning processes, and others have identified the need for improved monitoring and planning based on experience to date.


(1) Section 14(a)(1) of PL 102-477 requires that program funds "shall be administered in such a manner so as to allow for a determination that funds from specific programs  are spent on allowable activities authorized under such programs." However, the federal agency providing the funds has "the authority to waive any statutory requirement, regulation, or policy or procedure promulgated by that agency."

(2) The percentage of 477 funds that may be used for "the creation of employment opportunities" is the greater of (1) the unemployment rate in the tribe's service area (up to a maximum of 25%), or (2) 10%.

(3) Since the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act of 1988 does not authorize Alaska regional Native corporations to operate gaming facilities, neither BBNC nor Doyon, Ltd. has gaming operations.

(4) As of March 1, 2004, there were 565 federally recognized tribes.

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