[Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: William J. Clinton (1998, Book II)]
[October 31, 1998]
[Pages 1937-1938]
[From the U.S. Government Publishing Office www.gpo.gov]

Statement on Signing the Haskell Indian Nations University and 
Southwestern Indian Polytechnic Institute Administrative Systems Act of 
October 31, 1998

    Today I am signing into law H.R. 4259, the ``Haskell Indian Nations 
University and Southwestern Indian Polytechnic Institute Administrative 
Systems Act of 1998.'' Haskell Indian Nations University (Haskell) and 
Southwestern Indian Polytechnic Institute (SIPI) are the only Federally 
owned and operated schools in the United States dedicated to higher 
education for American Indians. Together they have provided thousands of 
American Indians valuable educational opportunities. This Act will 
broaden and increase those opportunities by assisting both institutions 
in their ongoing efforts to attract and retain highly qualified 
administrators, faculty, and staff.
    The Act authorizes Haskell and SIPI each to conduct a 5-year 
demonstration project to test the feasibility and desirability of 
alternative personnel management systems designed to meet the special 
staffing circumstances in a college and university setting. Currently, 
Haskell and SIPI operate under the same civil service personnel system 
as most other Federal agencies. The demonstration projects authorized by 
H.R. 4259 will provide these schools flexibility to test personnel 
reforms in areas such as recruitment, hiring, compensation, training, 
discipline, promotion, and benefits. At the same time, the Act maintains 
continued adherence to applicable laws and regulations on matters such 
as equal employment opportunity, Indian preference, and veterans' 
preference. My expectation is that, at the conclusion of these 
demonstration projects, these schools will have tested alternative 
personnel systems that maintain important employee benefits and 
protections while promoting the flexibility necessary in a college and 
university setting.
    In signing H.R. 4259, I recognize that the legislation raises 
several concerns. It allows Haskell and SIPI to conduct demonstration 
projects involving leave and other employee benefits,

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such as retirement, health benefits, and life insurance--something no 
other Federal agency has been permitted to do. We must be mindful that 
altering employees' benefits for even a brief portion of their careers 
can have a serious long-term effect. Should such modifications be 
applied to a large number of Federal employees through other 
demonstration projects they could have a damaging effect on the Federal 
retirement and insurance trust funds, which depend on spreading risk of 
loss over the largest possible group of individuals. These concerns are 
compounded by the fact that H.R. 4259 does not provide for the level of 
oversight by the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) that is typically 
required for personnel-related demonstration projects.
    Because of these concerns, I am directing the Secretary of the 
Interior and the presidents of Haskell and SIPI to involve the OPM fully 
in the development and evaluation of the schools' demonstration 
projects. This involvement is only appropriate given the OPM's important 
role in managing and safeguarding Federal employee benefits programs and 
overseeing demonstration projects. Further, I strongly urge the Congress 
to await the outcome of the OPM's ongoing comprehensive review of the 
Government-wide benefits package for Federal employees before 
authorizing other demonstration projects outside the OPM's current 
statutory authority.
    With these caveats, I trust that H.R. 4259 will prove helpful to 
Haskell and SIPI in attracting and retaining highly qualified employees, 
thereby enabling them to continue to fulfill their important mission of 
providing quality higher education opportunities to American Indians.

                                                      William J. Clinton

The White House,

October 31, 1998.

Note: H.R. 4259, approved October 31, was assigned Public Law No. 105-