The Indian Health Service is required by law to provide absolute preference in employment to American Indians and Alaska Natives who are enrolled in a federally recognized tribe as defined by the Secretary of the Interior. Indian preference requirements apply to all actions involved in filling a vacant position (e.g. initial hiring, reassignment, transfer, competitive promotion, reappointment or reinstatement), no matter how the vacancy arises. Any individual who claims Indian preference: 1) must submit a properly completed and signed BIA-4432; 2) must meet all qualification requirements as defined by the Office of Personnel Management and the Indian Health Service Excepted Service Qualification Standards (Preston Standards); and, 3) must be deemed suitable for employment.
There are certain delineated exceptions to Indian preference or conditions where the application of Indian preference is not required: 1) a vacancy does not exist; 2) the requirements for Indian preference can be waived; or, 3) other laws require the filling of a vacancy without regard to Indian preference, e.g, Public Law 94-437, “Indian Health Care Improvement Act” (IHCIA) which established priority placement for IHS scholarship obligees.
Non-Indian applicants who are current or past federal employees, who have attained competitive status, who apply and are deemed qualified, can be referred for selection under the Merit Promotion Plan if there are no qualified Indian preference applicants.
Additionally, when management determines that there may not be qualified applicants who have Indian preference, they may decide to advertise the position in a manner that allows applications to be solicited from both Indian preference and non-Indian candidates concurrently. The announcement for the position will be identified as a Delegated Examining announcement. However, if there is one or more qualified applicants who has submitted acceptable proof of Indian preference only those candidates can be referred and considered for appointment.
Indian Preference vs Veterans Preference
In an opinion by the Solicitor General to the Department of Interior, dated June 4, 1954, it was determined that the appointments made under Indian preference take precedence over the provision of Section 3 of the Veterans’ Preference Act of 1944. It is the policy of the IHS, with respect to appointments in the excepted service that once Indian preference requirements are met, Veterans’ preference will be applied as set forth in 5 CFR 302 and HHS Personnel Instruction 302-1.