FROM THE ARCHIVE

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In The Hoop
WEDNESDAY, OCTOBER 10, 2001

Welcome to In The Hoop, Indianz.Com's occasional column about assorted Indian issues.

The Case of the Missing Report
In The Hoop regularly pokes fun at the federal government for its mishaps, the Department of Interior being a frequent target of our missives. It's not hard to find something funny about an agency whose main duties include protecting oil, bison and Indians.

But rarely have we found an occasion to castigate a particular failure affecting the final group: the department's bungling of the latest court-mandated trust fund report.

The saga began in late August, when Indianz.Com began contacting the Interior to receive a copy of the pending report, the seventh since U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth ordered the government to provide them. Despite repeated requests, various employees and officials were unable to track it down.

Only through the plaintiffs in the Cobell v. Norton lawsuit did we discover the government on August 31 asked Lamberth for permission to hold back the report by a month. Yet by the time Indianz.Com published a September 6 story detailing the delay, Interior representatives were claiming they hadn't actually seen the court motion filed on their behalf.

Meanwhile, we got preoccupied with Secretary Gale Norton's move to release a confidential report to Congress. And court monitor Joseph S. Kieffer's report blasting yet another aspect of trust reform. And the Interior's paltry blueprint for an historical accounting.

But we digress.

Finally, October 3 came, the day the Interior promised -- at the very latest -- to turn in the report. And it went. Once again, we asked for the missing report and were told by one spokesperson it was to be available online.

When that didn't happen the following day, we asked again. We even offered to pick it up in person. Hey, have a BIA cop -- there are several working government buildings in the wake of the terrorist attacks -- deliver it, we thought. But the spokesperson said she was working to get a series of attachments put online.

Friday came and still nothing. Along came the Columbus Day weekend -- a federal holiday -- and out went the Interior's ability to scan documents, it seems.

Finally, after repeated requests, we get a phone call from the Office of the Special Trustee at approximately 4:55 p.m. on Tuesday. We have a report, said the representative, but we're not sure it's the right one.

So, continued the tale-bearer, we can't put it online until the Office of the Solicitor verifies it is correct. The conversation ended.

Conveniently, however, a document was modified on the OST web site within minutes of the end of the phone call. Inconveniently, the link was broken. [It remains broken as of noon today.]

Conveniently, another document was placed into a directory on the site. It was time-stamped 5:11 p.m. It was the missing trust fund report.

Now, In The Hoop is not one to discount the hard-working staff of Solicitor Bill Myers. Yet we are equally inclined to believe they didn't "verify" the document so quickly after holding it back from our purview for days.

But at least, we thought, Myers didn't try to intimidate us. Allegedly.

After reading the report, it's easy to see why the government would want to hide it. Progress, what little there might have been, appears to have been rolled back a year, according to the report.

And those attachments? They turned out to be a series of rather interesting internal documents the Department of Justice filed with the federal court. They put that infamous imploding memo to shame.

"It's the saddest thing I've ever heard," said an account holder, who wished to remain anonymous, when told of the debacle.

"The only time they lie is when they move their lips," said lawyer Dennis Gingold of government attorneys and officials.

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