FROM THE ARCHIVE

Court probes Norton's trust fund report

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FRIDAY, OCTOBER 11, 2002

A federal court is investigating whether Secretary of Interior Gale Norton approved a report that contained misleading information about efforts to fix the broken Indian trust fund.

Alan Balaran, a special master for the Individual Indian Money (IIM) class action, this week made a sweeping request for a number of documents that went into the preparation of the report. He is seeking drafts and other records to determine if incriminating statements were suppressed.

"The court has directed me to investigate whether the Department of the Interior withheld any information," Balaran wrote on October 7.

Already in contempt for committing a fraud on the court, Norton faces additional scrutiny because she signed the report personally. After she tried to circumvent a court ruling by substituting a $3 million assessment prepared by EDS Corporation, a management consulting firm, for the status update, U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth ordered her to take responsibility.

The decision, which came in the midst of the contempt trial in December 2001, sent top officials, including Ross Swimmer, scrambling to put the report together. It was eventually submitted the following month with Norton's blessing.

By then, Lamberth had already slammed Norton for her "game playing." She delayed a previous report because Tom Slonaker, a presidential appointee who was brought in to ensure the system is fixed, refused to vouch for its contents.

But Slonaker was eventually ousted in July for his honesty. "I have to stand up and tell things as they are," he later told Indianz.Com.

Balaran's investigation will focus on the eighth report, which covered the period August through December 2001. In particular, he will address allegations that Swimmer and aide Donna Erwin, who was named Slonaker's replacement, hid information about the Trust Asset and Accounting Management System (TAAMS), a $40 million computer system designed to correct decades of problems.

Norton in the report announced that development on the system was being halted. But in a lengthy court filing, an Indian-owned company that was contracted to help prepare the eighth report charged Erwin with replacing its harsh assessment with a more detached view of the project.

Norton's defense team never responded to the allegations of Native American Industrial Distributors Inc. (NAID). Instead, they dismissed it is as contract dispute.

Erwin, in a May 5 letter, accused NAID of submitting its views on TAAMS to Congress without departmental approval. NAID's contract was subsequently terminated on August 16.

The company sought to intervene in the case but Lamberth denied the motion last month.

Relevant Documents:
Balaran Letter (10/7) | Eighth Quarterly Report (January 2002)

Relevant Links:
Indian Trust: Cobell v. Norton - http://www.indiantrust.com
Cobell v. Norton, Department of Justice - http://www.usdoj.gov/civil/cases/cobell/index.htm
Indian Trust, Department of Interior - http://www.doi.gov/indiantrust
Trust Reform, NCAI - http://www.ncai.org/main/pages/
issues/other_issues/trust_reform.asp

Related Stories:
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Norton: Trust reform blueprint 'obsolete' (1/18)
Under watch of Swimmer, TAAMS halted (1/18)
Norton signs trust reform update (1/17)
Cason working on trust reform quarterly update (1/16)
Top trust official lacks 'confidence' in reform (1/9)
Judge questions role in trust fund 'circus' (12/20)
Norton ordered to submit trust fund report (12/18)
Official: Trust fund fix at 'great risk' of failure (10/10)
Memo: Solicitor's order was 'intimidating' (10/10)
Interior delaying trust reform report (9/6)