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Major Reservations Senate Indian Affairs Committee Chairman Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.) says tribes are waiting too long for responses from the Interior Department and that the department’s deep backlog of unresolved matters is unacceptable. Some tribes have waited years for approval to bring land into reservation status, finalize leases, and have the estates of individual tribe members probated, several tribal representatives testified at a committee hearing last Thursday. Others said millions of dollars in tribal economic development projects — including casinos and office buildings — are on hold pending approval from Interior. As detailed in last week’s Legal Times, tribal representatives say the backlogs affect nearly every aspect of Indian life, and officials have not provided clear explanations for delays. Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs Carl Artman, who took office last March, said procedures for processing tribal land applications differ across regional offices, even for noncontroversial applications that don’t involve casinos. Interior also doesn’t have a system to track how many applications are pending and where they are in the process. Artman said he expects new regulations that will address the problem to be publicly unveiled soon. Dorgan, clearly frustrated, called the lack of standards “gross incompetence” and said it’s creating havoc for tribes. He asked Artman to return in six months to report on Interior’s progress. Dorgan also repeatedly returned to the plight of the Gila River Indian Community in Arizona. That tribe, he said, spent $7.2 million to build a state-of-the-art commercial building, only to find that federal officials must approve a master lease before they can sign agreements with tenants. The building has now been empty for a year, he said. William Rhodes, governor of the Gila River community, said he had hoped that Interior would process the needed lease within two to three months. “I assume the tribe had some kind of epileptic seizure upon learning you had built this wonderful new building and couldn’t lease it until someone at the [Bureau of Indian Affairs] signs something,” Dorgan said to Rhodes during the hearing. “Yes,” Rhodes answered. The Gila River tribe is represented by lobbyists with Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld and has spent more than $300,000 on lobbying during the first half of this year, according to lobbying disclosure forms. The firm reports lobbying Interior on the tribe’s behalf. Rhodes said tribe representatives have met with Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne and are still hopeful. — Carrie Levine
Starting Up Top-tier firms are scrambling for lobbyists with Democratic cred, but former Clinton administration official Lisa Kountoupes is going out on her own, leaving Clark & Weinstock to open Kountoupes Consulting. Kountoupes, who also worked for Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.), chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, has registered four clients so far, including Internet portal Yahoo, which also remains a Clark & Weinstock client. Kountoupes, 40, says starting her own business was a logical next step. A former Clark & Weinstock colleague with strong Republican ties, Julie Hershey Carr, has joined her, along with an administrative assistant, at the firm’s new offices near Metro Center. Dingell’s return to the helm of Energy and Commerce “has brought a lot of really rigorous debate to a lot of issues under the committee’s jurisdiction,” Kountoupes says. “I think I can bring a lot of assistance to clients that are trying to navigate that.” Kountoupes also stresses her experience at the Office of Management and Budget, where she says the pay-as-you-go spending policies she worked on are again relevant. Kountoupes isn’t the first Democrat to go out on her own. Steve Elmendorf, the former president of Bryan Cave Strategies, opened Elmendorf Strategies late last year. — Carrie Levine
Stream Lines Lobbyist Sharon Ringley-Potter shouldn’t have to spend too much time getting to know her new client, the Digital Media Association: She’s married to its director, Jonathan Potter. And Ringley-Potter had already worked for some of the association’s members before she left the Bockorny Group to start her own practice earlier this year. She is lobbying in favor of the Internet Radio Act, a bill introduced in the House and Senate that would repeal recent music royalty increases for streaming Web-based broadcasts. The association, known as DiMA, is in a proxy battle with the Recording Industry Association of America and its nonprofit royalty collection agency, Sound Exchange. National Public Radio, represented by the Podesta Group, is also on DiMA and the webcasters’ side. DiMA expects the issue to heat up this fall when Rep. Howard Berman (D-Calif.) introduces legislation that would force some terrestrial broadcast stations to pay for performance rights, with exceptions for smaller broadcasters. — Jeff Horwitz

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