The Government Accountability Office recommends improving database access and management, as well as better communication, to help resolve cases of missing and murdered Native American and Alaskan women.
The Government Accountability Office issued four major recommendations for law enforcement to consider in an effort to better solve cases of missing and murdered indigenous women, emphasizing improved data collections and analysis practices.
Published in an audit released on Monday, GAO researchers reviewed the federal response to missing and murdered Native American and Alaskan women, focusing on the Justice and Interior departments’ procedures to handle these cases as tribal jurisdictions ask for better federal assistance and more resources in tackling missing indigenous womens’ cases.
Researchers at the GAO issued four recommendations for both departments, focusing on more efficient data collection strategies to capture an accurate image of the number of indigenous women who are missing or killed.
While the audit notes that two recent federal laws, Savanna’s Act and the Not Invisible Act, have enhanced data entry requirements, government agencies need to implement and improve data analysis practices in federal databases to better document and track crimes against indigenous women.
Since there is no single database to capture the total number of missing indigenous women that includes racial and incident data, along with other pertinent information, officials are forced to navigate four separate portals to manage cases and generate statistics. This leads to an incomplete picture of missing and murdered Native American women.
The four databases identified in the audit additionally succeed in delivering features on missing indigenous women’s cases and provide annual or quarterly reports, but persistent confusion among which database to use and how to access it leads to a lack of comprehensive national data on incidents of missing or murdered Native American women.
“Relevant DOJ and Department of the Interior (DOI) law enforcement agencies that investigate cases of missing or murdered Indian women in Indian country have engaged in other efforts to address the crisis,” the report explains, “but they have not implemented certain requirements to increase intergovernmental coordination and data collection in the two 2020 laws, which remain unfulfilled past their statutory deadlines.”
Three of the four recommendations are directed toward Justice, and advise that Attorney General Merrick Garland develop detailed plans––with specific steps and milestones––to update federal databases with more recent and frequent data entries on missing and murdered indigenous women.
One recommendation also advocates better communication with tribal authorities and organizations in regards to their ability to publicly enter information on missing persons in corresponding data portals, specifically the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System, known as NamUs.
“Tribal organization officials stated that there is confusion about which database to use, whether it be the state missing persons clearinghouse or NamUs,” the report reads. “Tribal organization officials stated that clarification about and coordination among databases is needed.”
Improvement in database delegation and access can enhance the documentation on missing indigenous women, which can help detect patterns of violence against Native American women and potentially help resolve cases.
GAO researchers also advised the Interior secretary to coordinate with Justice in finalizing a plan to appoint members to the Joint Commission on Reducing Violent Crime Against Indians, as established in the Not Invisible Act.
In response to the audit, Justice declined to submit a letter, but concurred with the report recommendations.
Interior did submit a response letter, where department leadership concurred with the audit’s findings, and specifically noted that they are in the process of receiving non-federal nominations to the Joint Commission on Reducing Violent Crime Against Indians.