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In Alaska, a promise unkept?

Updated | Alaska native corporations were created by Congress 40 years ago to help native Alaskan tribes rise above the poverty they’d suffered for decades. But have these companies delivered on their original promise?

In cooperation with the Washington Post, Need to Know features the investigative reporting of Robert O’Harrow Jr. His nine-month investigation details how the ANCs have received tens of billions of dollars worth of federal contracts in the last decade, and raises serious questions about whether native Alaskans are getting their fair share.

Photos and Video: Nikki Kahn, Washington Post

There have been several developments since O’Harrow’s series ran in the Washington Post. The federal government took action against GTSI, one of the companies cited in O’Harrow’s reporting. Senator Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) promised to introduce new legislation regarding Alaska native corporations. The trade association that represents Alaska native corporations – the Native American Contractors Association (NACA) – took issue with O’Harrow’s reporting, and its response can be found here.

After Need to Know’s program aired, that same trade association also took issue with our reporting. NACA wrote that Need to Know’s viewers “…were robbed of critical information regarding the strong value and exceptional service of the ANC industry.” We disagree with this characterization. Our program raised tough questions about how the Alaska native corporation program is currently operating, but we also cited industry officials and Congressional data describing the benefits that ANCs provide. We stand by our reporting. NACA asked that we post its entire letter on our website, and we’re happy to do so. It can be found here.

Two worlds: A Washington Post investigation


  • Charmurff

    The people in pine ridge are suffering also

  • meliorist

    I hope this important issue isn’t lost in Congress’ oversight functions.

  • Peterlimpert421

    I am disgusted with the level of corruption of this program and the way the idea has been hijacked by Corporate America,as usual.It seems that somehow,whenever Washington comes up with some noble idea to help some segment of suffering American citizens,Corporations find a way to make millions while the target group continues to suffer.The “subsidiary”in this case just pilfer the large amount of money and siphon it off to the corporation leaving crumbs for the Alaskans who were supposed to benefit.It is a travesty and need to be rectified immediately,I am going to watch this story and complain to my Senators and Congressional representatives about the level of corruption in this program,and hope that others do the same.Please continue to follow this and report on it.Thank you for bringing this to our attention,and thanks to the Washington Post for the investigative reporting.

  • Takuwind

    I just watched this program and was very disturbed by the intentional biased and misleading reporting. To begin with for every Native Corporation that is being mismanaged by non shareholders their are Alaska Native Corporations like Sealaska, North Slope, Calista, Goldbelt, Huna Totem whos top managers are shareholders and who are using their status as Native Corporations to the benefit or their shareholders. They have formed partnerships with large lower 48 businesses and are posting profits each year..These profits are used to generate more income, provide educational funds for shareholders and more importantly jobs that previously were unavailable to Natives. Their are two sides to every story…PBS should report the sucess stories Alaska Native Corporations who are making a huge difference to their people

  • George Elliot

    more on this story can be found here.

    Sealaska has in fact given its executives hundreds of thousands of dollars while its shareholders get a dollar a day.

    The special breaks these corporations get –see Senator Mercowski’s S 881– have to end.

  • S. Lundgren

    Bravo Washington Post and Need to Know for uncovering yet another misguided program.
    Your excellent presentation of the poverty level “shareholders” was disheartening.
    Maybe Sarah Palin could attack this head on instead of running for higher office.

  • CJFloyd

    Where did all the money go? It went into the campaign coffers of our beloved Uncle Ted and now Auntie Lisa is trying to preserve these no-bid boondoggles so she too can reap the political rewards of big dollars coming in the back door.
    The Washington Post and Need To Know have done the taxpayers of the other 49 states a tremendous service by exposing this corrupt system. The sooner it is stopped and these “corporations” are compelled to bid competitively, the better off a bankrupt nation will be.

  • BOB


  • Dsmithsfamily

    good you put the information out there

  • annonymous

    Alaska is the said to be the third most corrupt state behind NJ and LA. I say little is known and unions’ (AFSCME Local 52) and ostrich behavior legislators, and the government itself, including the (AFSCME 71) Alaska State Troopers who refuse to investigate white collar crime have made the state the undisputed champions of United States corrupt governments.

    There are absolutely no functional checks and balances between the branches, just co-op’ed political pranks of a criminal sort. That is government in AK, judges and magistrates are the assistant managers of whit collar crime-extortion-fraud, hence a free-for all of corruption.

  • anonymous

    Was that 2002 that SEAK lost ..uh.. was it 21 or 22 million dollars off of bad investments?

    Who was most affected by that, the lowly shareholders or the CEO’s?

  • George Elliot

    This corruption of the contracting system arose under Uncle Ted and Aunt Lisa. The follow up with two weeks to go before the election should be how many of her staff members helped created this program and keep it going?

    We know Jon De Vore who is a lobbyist in Birch Horton Bitner (Birch is the brother of Ted Steven’s widow) helped draft the 8(a) legislation.

    We hope the press is zealously looking for connections among each of the lobbyists from each of the 12 Native Corporations ie Alan Mintz is the lobbyist for Sealaska. Who was the lobbyist for Artic Slope when they leased an office in a building Ted Stevens owned.

    Artic Slope took in two billion in revenue last year. Hardly a deprived corporation considering its shareholders number in the thousands yet do not reap the profits of the corporation takes in.

    This is another large scale scandle that voters should reward by throwing the people who made this happen out of office.

  • Tennessee

    Since Ted Stevens legislation was failing and the corporations were almost bankrupt, the change to profitable was positive. The disgrace is the new corporate executives cheated the shareholders. I am sure the employees of the Virginia company thought they did all the hard work so why did shareholders in Alaska deserve any money. Yet, it was the Alaska Natives existence that allowed the corporations to begin, then grow, then profit. Time for retrobution. The loopholes must be closed so future earnings for shareholders is fair. The corporations should pay back the years of shareholder money they withheld or lose current and future government contracts. Shame on America for letting its citizens live in squaller and waste while turning a blind eye to evil greed.

  • justjoe

    I appreciate the Washington Post investigation, but get your basic facts straight, first of all, even though there were tens of billions over the last decade these are the gross earnings. So for every billion dollars, the average profit for a government set-aside is 6 to 8 percent; that said, it averages to about $70 million per billion then divide that by the approximate 100,000+ Native Alaskans and the number becomes just under $700 per person – per year – per billion if equally divided. Then don’t forget to factor in working capital for business development which comes from profit which is needed to grow the business. Then there is even less. The bottom line is there are/were a few rotten apples that need to be taken out of the barrel. A majority of the native corps have responsible management and earn appropriate salaries and have developed shareholders into senior positions. Yes, developed since they did not have any with instant knowledge in place when this was started. Let them continue to grow and provide for their shareholders under the current program that has real potential to make a difference. Having a $20 million dollar contract for an 8(a) set-aside and the ANC has 20,000 shareholders this equals to about $70.00 each per – person per year. That’s maybe ten gallons of milk in remote Alaska. For those of you who don’t know, google earth Alaska, there are no roads or infrastructure. Some abuse of Alaskan Native Corps has happened, but it’s not the Alaskan Natives that did it. Senator Stevens understood the disadvantages and they are still needed more than ever. Don’t take them away!

  • WinstonSmith

    Stop talking and start revolting!

  • Anonymous

    Hmmm… I still think these companies should open their books. Would you disagree “justjoe” and if so, why???

  • Charles Fedullo

    Very one sided story. Was any effort made to contact Alaska Native Corpoprations? Robert O’Harrow showed that courtesy in his series in the Washington Post and the story was better for it. This piece has no mention of the milions of dollars to shareholders in scholarships, thier equity in the companies or the openess of finacial reports, not to mention job training or cultural enhancement and preservation programs. No mention of the investment in building businesses and opportunities to create Native self determination. Not one Alaska Native Corporation executive quoted or talked to. I’d like to see the benefits and the Alaska Natrive Corporations view.

  • Northern Cynic

    Goldbelt was the subject of a Propublica story a year ago detailing $700 million in federal contract fraud at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base and Calista’s (longtime) CEO was just sued for sexual harassment. There is a culture of corruption here in Alaska (and not just with the Native corporations) and it’s continued success is dependent on these no-bid/no-oversight contracts. Many people, both Native and non-Native live and work under fear of retribution for speaking out or blowing the whistle. There is a small group of politicians who oversee this whole racket and they use their positions to get people fired, their family members fired and to withhold funds for small communities. It’s really ugly and oppressive.

    The beltway contractor mentioned in the WaPo article, GTSI just had its suspension from the SBA program lifted. There is no act egregious enough to get any of these contractors suspended or barred in any meaningful way.

    The Alaska Native Corporations are merely taking advantage of corruption that was there before they got their piece of the pie – and will remain after they are gone. The truly offensive part is that they “use” images of impoverished villages and horrifying rape and violence statistics involving Alaska Natives in order to stay in the game.

  • Viapops

    Thanks PBS and Robert O’Harrow for your expose’. As a resident of SE Alaska I have witnessed first hand the greed and corruption that these Native Corporations practice. They do very little for the people they claim to represent… just a bunch of greedy CEO types living the high life while the average native would just like a flush toilet. The ANC’s are in bed with the politicians and lobbyists that promote the 8a no bid/no oversight contracts – aka the “Alaska Mafia”. Yes, the bums that push these contracts should be thrown out of office. And thank you Claire McCaskill for supporting meaningful reform.

  • Dufusdogtd2

    I know this issue was hotly debated at this years Alaskan Federation of Natives in Fairbanks. Our winds blow cold when we need to know. thank you for the exposure,Keep the light on.