In the campaign to help combat violence against American Indian and Alaska Native women in the U.S., the Government Accountability Office (GAO) says that better efforts to create and analyze case data in Federal databases are necessary to better understand the full extent of the crisis and work to alleviate it.

Despite two laws being passed in 2020 that are meant to help address the problem, the Departments of Justice (DOJ) and Interior (DOI) are missing some of the deadlines required by the laws, and GAO is recommending in a new report that both agencies develop plans to implement the requirements of the laws.

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“The total number of missing or murdered Indigenous women – referred to as American Indian and Alaska Native (AI/AN) women in this report – is unknown because, for several reasons, Federal databases do not contain comprehensive national data on all AI/AN women reported missing,” wrote GAO. “For example, Federal law requires Federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies – but not tribal law enforcement agencies – to report missing children under the age of 21, but not those over 21.”

According to GAO, data analyses efforts by DOJ are in the early stages, and the agency does not have a plan to continue those efforts past November 2021. GAO said that the Not Invisible Act of 2019 requires DOI to appoint members to a Joint Commission on Reducing Violence Against Indians by Feb. 7, 2021, but noted that no members had been appointed as of Oct. 15, 2021.

GAO says both agencies should develop plans to meet unfulfilled statutory requirements to ensure the agencies are meeting their legal obligations, and support tribal partners in reducing violent crime.

GAO made four recommendations – three to DOJ and one to DOI – on implementing plans to accomplish ongoing analyses of missing or murdered AI/AN women data. Both agencies concurred with the recommendations, which are:

  1. DOJ should develop a plan to accomplish ongoing analyses of data in existing Federal databases and future data to be gathered to identify relevant trends in cases of missing or murdered AI/AN women;
  2. DOJ should develop a plan to implement a dissemination strategy to educate the public on the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System (NamUs);
  3. DOJ should develop a plan to conduct outreach to Indian tribes, tribal organizations, and urban Indian organizations regarding the ability to publicly enter information on missing persons through NamUs or another non-law enforcement sensitive portal; and
  4. DOI should coordinate with DOJ to finalize its draft plan to establish and appoint all members to the Joint Commission on Reducing Violent Crime Against Indians.
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Jordan Smith
Jordan Smith
Jordan Smith is a MeriTalk Senior Technology Reporter covering the intersection of government and technology.