The mission of the Indian Health Service (IHS) is to raise the health status of the American Indian and Alaska Native people to the highest possible level. To carry out this mission, the IHS provides comprehensive primary health care and disease prevention services. The Sanitation Facilities Construction (SFC) Program is the environmental engineering component of the IHS health delivery system. The SFC Program provides technical and financial assistance to Indian tribes and Alaska Native communities (tribes) for the cooperative development and continuing operation of safe water, wastewater, and solid waste systems, and related support facilities.
More information on the Division of Sanitation Facilities Construction (DSFC) Program can be found in the DSFC Criteria Document. (PDF - 9.4 MB)
DSFC Program Services
- Maintain Sanitation Deficiency Inventories
- Provides Environmental Engineering Services
- Project Development
- Fund Water, Wastewater, and Solid Waste Projects
- Provide Professional Design and Construction Services
- Provide O&M Training and Technical Consultation
- Advocates for Indian People on Environmental Issues
- Provide Emergency Response Services
Maintain Sanitation Deficiency Inventories
The 1988 amendments to the Indian Health Care Improvement Act (IHCIA), P.L. 94-437, require IHS to maintain inventories of sanitation deficiencies for new and existing Indian homes and communities, to prioritize those deficiencies, and to annually report them to Congress. Since 1989, IHS has annually reported to Congress these needs in the form of community deficiencies and projects to address those deficiencies. Projects are identified in terms of the facilities to be provided, the cost, and the number of homes to be served by the facilities. The inventory of sanitation facilities needs for existing homes is maintained in the IHS Sanitation Deficiency System (SDS). The data are updated annually to account for inflation, changing state and Federal regulations, to add new deficiencies, and to delete the deficiencies addressed by projects funded by IHS and others. Sanitation needs for new and like-new homes are maintained and updated semi-annually. These sanitation deficiency inventories are necessary for internal program management, budget formulation and justification for appropriations, and are a basis for resource allocation to Areas and tribes. The deficiency inventories are used to provide a wide variety of information to members of Congress, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), the General Accounting Office (GAO), the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and various other Federal entities who are interested in the needs of tribes. As part of the inventory of needs, the IHS SFC Program maintains Community Deficiency Profiles which estimate the number of homes with sanitation deficiencies at various deficiency levels. These profiles are used to monitor and evaluate the progress in eliminating and correcting deficiencies and provides a reliable estimate of the number of existing homes eligible for assistance through the SFC Program. As such, the Community Deficiency Profiles may be used as a SFC baseline measure. (Refer to the Yellow Book and Baseline Measures Workgroup Final Report for further information concerning baseline measures.)
Provides Environmental Engineering Services
Professional environmental engineering services, such as the review of engineering plans and specifications for sanitation facilities, are often provided to tribes, tribal enterprises, and Tribally Designated Housing Entities (TDHEs) whether the project is funded by IHS or not. The SFC Program also provides other types of technical assistance to tribes for environmentally-related public health issues, such as sanitary surveys and utility master planning, both short range and long range. Technical reviews of feasibility studies and grant proposals may be provided to tribes by the SFC Program for a wide range of civil and sanitation facilities projects, if IHS resources are available. With increasing and more stringent environmental regulations regarding safe drinking water, sewage treatment and disposal, and solid waste disposal, the IHS provides tribes with ongoing technical support and consultation about how to meet these new challenges.
After a need for a sanitation facilities project is identified, a viable project is developed and constructed to address the need. This often requires many months or years of complex coordination and planning. Archeological and other environmental clearances or waivers must be obtained; land must be secured; funding must be located and secured; and legal problems might need to be resolved. During project development, the schedule may be adjusted for other issues including legal, economic, or cultural reasons. In the course of developing projects to meet sanitation deficiencies, IHS works cooperatively with tribes to identify the funding sources, provide interagency coordination, and assist the tribes to meet the program requirements of the various agencies which provide the funding. Meeting the diverse sanitation needs of Indian communities and homes often requires funds from different sources, which may result in complex multi-agency funded projects. In these situations, IHS will provide necessary technical assistance with grant application descriptions and justifications. If successful, the diverse needs of tribes and varied requirements of other agencies can be coordinated into a single efficient and effective project. The SFC Program routinely works cooperatively with the tribes, TDHEs, and with many other governmental agencies, such as the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA), and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), toward achieving objectives of all the agencies, especially when it involves the provision of sanitation facilities. For example, HUD funding for sanitation facilities construction in support of new HUD homes is often provided to the SFC program by tribes through their Tribally Designated Housing Entities (TDHEs). Similarly, agreements involving the tribes, the IHS, and the EPA Indian Set-Aside Wastewater Grants Program have resulted in EPA grant funds being transferred at tribal request to the SFC Program for administration of the projects.
Fund Water, Wastewater, and Solid Waste Projects
The types of sanitation facilities projects funded with IHS appropriations generally are spelled out in the language of the appropriation bills and bill reports. In recent years, four types of projects have been defined. They are (1) projects to serve new or like-new housing, such as Indian homes being constructed or rehabilitated by the BIA-Home Improvement Program (HIP), tribes, individual homeowners, or other nonprofit organizations, (2) projects to serve existing housing, (3) special projects (studies, training, or other needs related to sanitation facilities construction), and (4) emergency projects. Special and Emergency Project funding total approximately $1 million annually.
Provide Professional Design and Construction Services
Standard engineering design and construction services provided by the SFC Program include (in broad terms); (1) selecting appropriate alternatives (for example, those affordable to operate and maintain), (2) soils testing, (3) surveying, (4) obtaining construction permits, (5) preparing drawings, (6) preparing specifications and other contract documents, (7) managing the construction, and (8) start-up of the facilities, including training. The design of sanitation facilities requires good judgment. A deficient design can have an adverse impact on the health and safety of a population. Therefore, design and construction services are performed and/or supervised by a licensed engineer. All SFC Program engineers at or above the level of district engineer are licensed in at least one state.
Provide O&M Training and Technical Consultation
Section 302 (b)2 of the Indian Health Care Improvement Act (P.L. 94-437) authorizes operation and maintenance (O&M) technical assistance in the form of (1) financial and technical assistance to Indian tribes and communities in the establishment, training, and equipping of utility organizations to operate and maintain Indian sanitation facilities; (2) ongoing technical assistance and training in the management of utility organizations which will operate and maintain sanitation facilities; and (3) O&M assistance for emergency repairs to tribal sanitation facilities when necessary to avoid a health hazard. Upon completion of a project, the facilities constructed are either owned by or transferred to the tribe, individual homeowner, or other responsible non-Federal entity. Often, construction projects include funds for training operators, initial start-up, and for equipment needed for maintenance. SFC provides technical assistance to the new owners of the facilities and provides training for the proper operation and maintenance of the new facilities. For example, tribal operators are instructed on the operation and maintenance of chlorination and fluoridation equipment, pumps, motor control systems, sewage collection systems, lift stations, and wastewater treatment facilities. The SFC Program also provides technical assistance to tribes in the development of tribal utility organizations for the operation, maintenance, and management of community water and sewer facilities. This assistance may include the provision of equipment and tools for the utility organizations (as part of a project) and development of a rate structure to determine appropriate customer water and sewer fees. It may also include O&M manuals, as-built drawings, and technical handbooks. IHS sanitation facilities construction monies cannot be used for O&M assistance (e.g., to pay operator wages or electric power bills) except when providing training, technical assistance, and/or equipment in conjunction with a construction project for facilities provided under that project. However, O&M training also can be provided with program funding. Often IHS uses program funds for classroom training of operators from multiple tribes. It also provides O&M technical assistance at the site of the sanitation facility.
Advocates for Indian People on Environmental Issues
The SFC Program seeks to meet the sanitation needs of American Indians and Alaska Natives not only with IHS appropriated funds, but by advocating for making non-IHS resources available to the Indian people. The SFC Program also advocates for tribes during the development of laws, regulations, and programs at the Federal level. In addition, the SFC Program advocates for tribes and provides technical assistance during regulatory enforcement actions taken against tribes. Because of its organizational structure and routine communication from field offices up through Headquarters offices, the SFC Program is able to assist tribes quickly and efficiently by linking decision makers at all levels of government to resolve important issues quickly or otherwise advocate for tribes.
Provide Emergency Response Services
The IHS SFC Program provides both technical assistance and limited financial assistance in the event of a public health emergency. Typically, this involves assisting the tribe to restore and/or assure the continued safe operation of water supply and wastewater disposal systems after a natural disaster or other unforeseen event. When necessary, the SFC Program can quickly mobilize personnel and equipment from other districts and Areas for short periods of time to address an emergency situation of a single tribe.