FROM THE ARCHIVE

Norton's witness on TAAMS does damage

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MONDAY, SEPTEMBER 23, 2002

The federal government's key witness on a $40 million failed Indian trust accounting system was not "credible," the federal judge overseeing the debacle said in his contempt of court opinion against the Bush administration.

Deborah McLeod has managed the Trust Asset and Accounting Management System (TAAMS) on behalf of her employer, a Texas company called Applied Terravision, since the summer of 1999. In January, she spent two days on the stand talking about her role in the failed system.

But U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth wasn't impressed with her performance. He said it was "inconceivable" that McLeod could claim the entire system was working when critical tests showed numerous problems.

"In short, Ms. McLeod was not a credible witness regarding TAAMS at this contempt trial," concluded Lamberth.

McLeod wasn't the only one who sealed Norton's contempt citation. Tommy Thompson, a senior trust reform official who was passed over as acting Special Trustee when his boss Tom Slonaker was ousted in July, testified at great length about the system's problems.

Dominic Nessi, the first of six TAAMS project managers, also said the system has "basically failed." But he did so only after he abandoned the Bureau of Indian Affairs to work for another Department of Interior agency.

McLeod's testimony still contradicted those negative views. She repeatedly stressed that portions of TAAMS worked and chalked the failures up to "data conversion" issues independent of the software.

She also disputed reports of corruption of Indian trust data that were published on Indianz.Com and in a court monitor's report. "It can't happen," she insisted on January 14.

McLeod did acknowledge two key developments that contributed to TAAMS' downfall. The first was a decision to split the system into different components: one to manage title, or land ownership, and the other to account for the activity that occurs on the land.

Under questioning by an attorney for the Indian plaintiffs, McLeod admitted that the latter portion, known as realty, has never worked and may never work. She confirmed that repeated modifications of her company's "off the shelf" product turned TAAMS into a more complex -- and thereby costly and time-consuming -- custom system.

McLeod also pointed to infighting among the Office of Trust Fund Management -- whose director Donna Erwin entered the battle uninformed, she claimed -- and the BIA as another limiting factor.

In the midst of the contempt trial, Norton in January halted new development on TAAMS pending further review. She handed the reins to Erwin and Ross Swimmer, a former BIA assistant secretary who said he tried to create a similar system during the end of the Reagan administration.

The project has since been renamed Trust Systems and EDS Corporation, a management consulting firm, is working on seeing if the title portion can be salvaged. A parallel effort to understand how the BIA carries out trust functions is aimed at preventing another TAAMS mistake.

Relevant Documents:
Contempt Decision (9/17)

Relevant Links:
Indian Trust: Cobell v. Norton - http://www.indiantrust.com
TAAMS - http://www.taams.com
Applied Terravision - http://www.atsi.com

Related Stories:
On trust, the problems remain the same (5/13)
A super assistant secretary, in all but name (5/3)
Swimmer legacy still haunts BIA (2/12)
Memo sounded early warning on TAAMS (2/4)
Trust system takes center stage in contempt (2/1)
Witness testifies against software corruption (1/15)
TAAMS: The Titanic Failure (12/20)
TAAMS failure traced to promoted manager (12/20)