FROM THE ARCHIVE

Official: Trust fund fix at 'great risk' of failure

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WEDNESDAY, OCTOBER 10, 2001

Calling into question Secretary of Interior Gale Norton's repeated claims of progress, a top-level official has warned that certain parts of the government's three-year-old plan to fix the broken trust fund appear to be at "great risk" of failure.

In a status report filed last week with the federal court overseeing the Cobell v. Norton lawsuit, Special Trustee Tom Slonaker says "serious issues" are affecting the "successful completion" of a number of critical trust fund projects. He includes data cleanup and the $40 million Trust Assets and Accounting Management System (TAAMS), both of which were recently slammed by a court monitor assigned to watch over the Interior.

But Slonaker -- a political appointee who reports directly to Norton -- also voices concerns about three other reforms whose status has been praised in previous court reports. As recently as May, the Interior claimed it had met the necessary milestones for the appraisals, probate and workforce planning projects.

However, Slonaker himself says the projects in question reached a "critical point" as early as the spring, casting doubt on the upbeat presentation previously made by the Interior. In a 22-page memo addressed to his boss, Slonaker points out numerous instances where status reports dating back to August 2000 were based on unreliable, non-existent, or even unobtainable information.

Some Interior managers implementing trust reform "do not have or cannot get or will not acknowledge an accurate description of problems present," wrote Slonaker on September 10. The memo has been submitted to U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth as part of the formal record.

The incongruous and conflicting picture of trust reform is furthered by objections Slonaker puts in the report itself, the seventh since Lamberth's landmark December 1999 ruling. "The Special Trustee is not satisfied with the completeness or the quality of the information provided in this quarterly report," it plainly states.

The report had already been held up more than a month as Norton's lawyers sought to delay it. Although they never received permission from Lamberth to do so, they promised to turn it into him by October 3.

The plaintiffs in the lawsuit, representing an estimated 300,000 American Indians throughout the country were opposing the delay. Yesterday, a lawyer for the group repeated his assertion that the information contained in the report would have been inaccurate whether it was filed on time or not.

"They lied again," said Washington, DC, lawyer Dennis Gingold. "They filed [a report] which is a furtherance of their fraud."

To address its shortcomings, the Interior is paying EDS Corporation, a management consulting firm, nearly $1 million to assess the trust reform plan. Slonaker says the evaluation is due by mid-December.

Slonaker was appointed Special Trustee by President Clinton in February 2000 and confirmed in May 2000. He replaced Paul Homan, who left the Clinton administration in a huff over funding and support with former Secretary Bruce Babbitt.

Get the Report:
Quarterly Status Report to the Court Number Seven (October 2001)

Today on Indianz.Com:
Memo: Solicitor's order was 'intimidating' (10/10)

Relevant Links:
Office of the Special Trustee - http://www.ost.doi.gov
Trust Management Improvement Project - http://www.doi.gov/bia/trust/tmip.htm
Indian Trust: Cobell v. Norton - http://www.indiantrust.com

Related Stories:
Infighting delaying trust fund fix (9/20)
Objections delaying trust fund report (9/6)
Norton pushes trust fund progress (8/27)