FROM THE ARCHIVE

Canceled contract leads to trust fund delays

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JUNE 28, 2001

The Department of Interior has canceled a $3.2 million contract with a New Mexico firm, resulting in further delays to a key part of the government's attempt to fix the broken trust fund system.

After winning a contract to help the government improve the management of trust fund records last November, ITQ LATA, an Albuquerque technology consulting company, failed to fulfill such seemingly simple tasks as producing a CD-ROM. Three months of work by the company resulted in the creation of just one CD-ROM which subsequently failed a quality assurance test, according to a quarterly, court-mandated report prepared by the Interior.

An oversight early on by the contractor resulted in unnecessary work, according to the report. The company failed to come up with a plan in advance for making digital images of trust fund documents, requiring the task to be completed all over again at a cost of $350,000 to taxpayers.

The company then attempted to solicit an extra $365,000 in funds for what the report paints as a mistake in planning. Also, since software the government purchased years ago was found incompatible with the contractor's work, the Interior expected ITQ LATA to request even more money to rectify the situation.

And contrary to the Interior's own expectations, ITQ LATA's work was estimated to take five times as long as originally thought, which would have resulted in additional cost of at least $400,000. So in light of four months of problems and potentially more in the future, the Interior in March simply canceled the contract, which would have run for one year with a two year option.

The cancellation is yet another setback to the Interior's three-year-old High Level Implementation Plan (HLIP), the government's guide to trust reform. Initiated in response to the Cobell v. Norton lawsuit, the plan has come under fire in recent months by Congress and top officials within the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

Despite the criticism, the Interior is not willing to scrap the blueprint, which has been revised once already. After BIA Chief Information Officer Dom Nessi said it was filled with "impossible expectations," Special Trustee Tom Slonaker told Congress in March it was "pretty good."

Bureau of Indian Affairs nominee Neal McCaleb acknowledges there are problems with the reform project. But he told Indianz.Com he wasn't ready to start over again, either.

"I don't favor redoing the HLIP," he said simply.

The contract the Interior canceled is part of a larger project known as records management, an area the government has run into trouble over the years. In 1999, former Secretary of Interior Bruce Babbitt, former Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin, and former Assistant Secretary Kevin Gover were held in contempt in 1999 for failing to produce documents a federal court required of them.

The Interior isn't going to immediately issue another contract to replace the canceled one. Instead, it has brought in an analyst -- hired through yet another contract -- to examine what steps might be taken next.

ITQ LATA is a spin-off of Los Alamos Technical Associates. Los Alamos Technical Associates, based in Los Alamos, has won a number of government contracts from other agencies.

Get the latest trust fund status report:
Quarterly Status Report to the Court Number Six: For the Period February 1, 2001 to April 30, 2001 (DOI May 31, 2001)

Relevant Links:
ITQ LATA - http://www.itqlata.com
Los Alamos Technical Associates - http://www.lata.com
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

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