WASHINGTON — The man leading a Washington Redskins foundation aimed at helping Native Americans also heads an organization that had a $1 million contract with the Bureau of Indian Affairs terminated after federal investigators found the group’s work “unusable.”
Gary Edwards is the chief executive of the National Native American Law Enforcement Association, which won a contract in 2009 with the bureau that called for recruiting Native Americans to work in law enforcement in Indian country.
The investigation, outlined in a 2012 inspector general’s report, found that of the 748 applications the organization supplied, none were usable. One applicant was 80 years old. Several were not U.S. citizens. Of the 514 applications reviewed by the inspector general’s office, only 22 were of Indian descent. The inspector general’s office advised that the contract be terminated immediately, and it was, but the bureau still ended up paying nearly $970,000 of the $1 million contract.
This week, Redskins owner Daniel Snyder introduced Edwards — first in a letter to fans and then at a meeting with fellow NFL owners — as the head of the Washington Redskins Original Americans Foundation. The foundation, according to Snyder’s letter, “will address the urgent challenges plaguing Indian country based on what tribal leaders tell us they need most.” Already, it has donated 3,000 coats to Native Americans and helped purchased a backhoe for a tribe.
On Tuesday, team General Manager Bruce Allen praised Edwards, a Cherokee and retired deputy assistant director of the U.S. Secret Service, on a Redskins.com TV broadcast, saying, “I think we have the right leader in Gary Edwards.”
Edwards did not respond to attempts to reach him Thursday, but in a statement released through the team, he said his organization “believes it met and exceeded all of its obligations under the contract with the Bureau of Indian Affairs’ Office of Justice Services, and subsequently was paid after the contract was completed.”
Team spokesman Tony Wyllie said the team would have no further comment.
The creation of the Redskins foundation and appointment of Edwards comes as the team faces unprecedented pressure to change its name, which has been described by some tribal leaders, lawmakers and civil rights groups as an offensive slur against Native Americans. In an interview Tuesday, Edwards said he has “no problem” with the name.
Edwards said he became involved with the team after a former co-worker who lives near Allen suggested the two meet. He eventually joined team officials, which at times included Snyder and Allen, on trips to more than 26 reservations across 20 states.
At least several of those visits were arranged by Jennifer Farley, a former Bush White House staffer who was linked to the Jack Abramoff scandal. Abramoff, a Washington lobbyist who admitted running a wide-ranging corruption scheme, was accused of bilking tens of millions of dollars from Indian tribes. Farley, who now runs her own lobbying firm, did not respond to a call for comment.
Edwards said he and Snyder found “some real common ground” as far as “my desire to help my people and his willingness to help the American Indian, his fans and his people.” He said he had always dreamed of creating an organization that would benefit Native Americans.
At least once before, when it has come to defending the name, team officials have failed to thoroughly vet those they work with. Last May, the team featured on its programming an interview with Stephen Dodson, “a full-blooded American Inuit chief originally from the Aleutian Tribes of Alaska.” He described the name as a “term of endearment,” saying, “When we were on the reservation, we would call each other, ‘Hey, what’s up, redskin?’” It was later discovered he was neither a chief nor full-blooded Indian — but not before NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell used Dodson as an example in support of the name in a letter to members of Congress.
“This is part of a disturbing, but hardly surprising, pattern of behavior by team owner Dan Snyder and his team,” said Oneida Indian Nation Representative Ray Halbritter, who has led a campaign to force the team to change its name. He condemned the hiring of Farley and Edwards, whom he described as someone “who financially harmed Native Americans.”
Edwards is not named in the inspector general’s report and instead is referred to as the CEO of the law enforcement association NNALEA.
The report said the association’s proposal stated it would “refer 500 ‘qualified candidates’ to serve in law enforcement positions at various Indian reservations.” In the end, 104 applicants were either too young or too old, several did not have driver’s licenses, and 47 lacked the educational requirements, according to the report’s findings, which were first reported in USA Today.
Edwards had also told the bureau’s human resources deputy director that he would focus his recruitment efforts in Indian country, according to the report. But only about 4 percent of the applicants were Native American.
Auditors found discrepancies in the work claimed versus what was actually done. The organization said it had participated in a recruiting fair on a reservation, but an official said there was no recruiting booth or representative in attendance. It also claimed to have put an ad in the South Dakota newspaper, but there was no such record.
The report shows that after the contract was terminated, the bureau paid $600,000 in “settlement costs” in violation of federal policy, bringing the total collected by Edward’s company to $967,100.
The report’s conclusion: “We found that BIA awarded a defective contract, disenfranchised potential job applicants, and wasted nearly $1 million of Federal funds.” It also found that the bureau’s failures “resulted in a poorly written contract, developed in conjunction with NNALEA, that contained significant contract defects, allowing NNALEA the opportunity to take advantage of [the Office of Justice Services] to produce unusable contract deliverables.”
In a statement, the Bureau of Indian Affairs said that after “the failed contract” with the association, it improved the guidance it provides for the development of future contracts.
Investigators, according to the report, attempted to interview members of the association’s board of directors, all of whom were federal law enforcement agents, but they all declined on the advice of NNALEA’s counsel. After an initial conversation, Edwards also refused to be interviewed.
Washington Post staff writer Mike Jones contributed to this report.