The U.S. Department of Transportation is calling for a nationwide review of all companies participating in its minority contracting program that claim to be “Native American,” following an investigation by the Los Angeles Times that revealed that many of the participating companies do not belong to any recognized Native American tribe.
One of the government contracts in question was awarded to the brother-in-law of then–House majority leader Kevin McCarthy (R., Calif.). The brother-in-law, William Wages, claimed to be a member of the Northern Cherokee Nation, which is not a federally recognized tribe.
Birth and census records dating back to 1850 showed no Cherokee among Wages’s ancestors.
Meanwhile, the House Small Business Committee announced it would also be scrutinizing the claims of various companies to Native American heritage, and other authorities across several states were already looking into the matter.
The announcements come after a June investigation by the Los Angeles Times in which the paper discovered numerous instances of company heads using unverified claims of Native American ancestry to obtain government funding set aside for minority contractors. Total funding for these contractors amounted to over $300 million.
Six states have already begun stripping certain companies of their minority status, after it was found that the company owners asserted membership in one of three Cherokee tribes that are not recognized by the government, and which recognized Cherokee tribes consider fraudulent.
“Government contracts are a powerful tool for spurring economic growth and job creation, and any abuse of programs intended to level the playing field for traditionally underserved populations is completely unacceptable,” said the chair of the House Small Business Committee, Rep. Nydia M. Velazquez (D., N.Y.).