OST pressed on timetable to complete trust reform
After 12 years of existence, the Office of the Special Trustee has completed just three out of eight key reform goals, the Government Accountability Office said on Monday.

Established by the American Indian Trust Fund Management Reform Act of 1994, the OST began as a small agency designed to oversee trust reform activities. But since the start of the Bush administration, its budget has increased by over 130 percent to $222.8 million and its staff has more than doubled.

Despite the massive growth, only two trust reform goals have been completed since January 2001. One was the creation of a beneficiary call center, which became fully operational in December 2005, and the other was the creation of an Internet-based trust portal in May 2006, according to the report.

The only other completed reform was the installation of the Trust Fund Accounting System, or TFAS, during the Clinton administration in May 2000. The system, however, has not led to an accounting of the billions of dollars in tribal and individual trust funds.

The 1994 law requires OST to come up with a strategic plan and a schedule for completing it. "However, the Special Trustee has yet to provide the Congress with a timetable for completing the remaining trust reform activities and a date for OSTs termination," the GAO said.

"The lack of a timetable for completing the remaining trust reforms has hindered the ability of the Congress, tribal organizations, and the public to fully assess the status of OSTs trust reforms or to plan for trust fund operations once reforms are completed," the report added.

Though it lacks a schedule, OST officials are confident they can complete all of their remaining goals by the end of this year. These reforms include a risk management program (March); a trust funds receivable system (November); a trust asset and accounting management system (October); an appraisal management system (March); and a probate management system (June).

The Trust Asset and Accounting Management System, or TAAMS, has been a major hurdle in the reform effort. To date, the Clinton and Bush administrations have spent more than $40 million on the project, which has missed numerous deadlines.

The land title component of the TAAMS system has been finished, according to GAO. But OST won't finish validating the data for the leasing component until December 2009, the report stated.

The data needs to be verified, or cleaned up, because it can be inaccurate. Each regional office of the Bureau of Indian Affairs developed their own systems to track ownership of Indian allotments.

"The land validation took about 1 hour per tract in BIAs Southern Plains region because there are about 12 owners per tract," the GAO said. "This validation requires more time in BIA's Great Plains region, which has about 32 owners per tract, and in BIA's Rocky Mountain region, which has over 100 owners for some tracts."

Under the 1994 law, OST is to provide Congress with a "sunset" date when its work will be completed. But now that the agency has taken on additional tasks such as land consolidation and managing all trust records, that may not be a possibility under the current regime, the report noted.

Despite the challenges ahead, the GAO concluded that OST "is in the final stages of implementing the trust fund management reforms that the 1994 act required." The GAO recommended that OST provide Congress with a timetable, a plan for future operations and a workforce staffing plan.

In response, the Interior Department agreed with GAO's recommendations and said it will have a timetable by this June. But the department took issue with the suggestion that it hasn't completed many of its reform goals.

"We estimate that over 50 significant or "key" reforms have taken place and estimate that at the very least there are many more "key" reforms to accomplish," R. Thomas Weimer, an assistant secretary, wrote in a November 21 letter.

GAO reviewed the list of 47 completed tasks submitted by Interior in response to the report. But "while they are important activities for the implementation of OST's trust reforms, we believe they are not key components" of the reform effort, the GAO said. "Accordingly, we did not revise our report."

Government Accountability Office Report:
The Office of the Special Trustee Has Implemented Several Key Trust Reforms Required by the 1994 Act, but Important Decisions about Its Future Remain (January 2007) | Abstract | Highlights

Inspector General Report:
Allegations Concerning Senior Officials of the Office of Special Trustee for American Indians (May 2005)

Relevant Links:
Office of Special Trustee - http://www.ost.doi.gov

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