FROM THE ARCHIVE
Trust fund holders want trial against Bush officials
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TUESDAY, AUGUST 7, 2001

Charging that the Bush administration has done little to restore faith to American Indian beneficiaries, the plaintiffs in the trust fund lawsuit on Monday urged a federal judge to set a trial date to resume their landmark case against the federal government.

Unless a date is set, Interior Secretary Gale Norton, Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill and Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs Neal McCaleb will continue to neglect their duties to an estimated 300,000 American Indians throughout the country, said the plaintiffs in a court filing. They are asking US District Judge Royce Lamberth to start proceedings on January 8 of next year.

"Failure to set deadlines and dates for defendants means business as usual – deception, delay and disobedience," said the plaintiffs. "No trial date means that defendants O’Neill, Norton and McCaleb will continue to inflict irreparable harm on individual Indian trust beneficiaries."

The filing comes on the heels of a recent court report which blasted both the Bush and Clinton administrations for stone-walling on the trust fund. Although Lamberth in December 1999 ordered the government to provide an historical accounting "without regard to when the funds were deposited," a court monitor last month found that little progress has been made since then.

The accounting, or how much Indian beneficiaries are owed, is important because it forms the basis of the second phase of the Cobell v. Norton lawsuit. The first phase, which took place over several weeks during the summer of 1999, focused only on how to fix the system, which dates back more than one hundred years.

With an estimated $400 million flowing into the accounts every year, the plaintiffs charge the government owes them $10 billion for years of financial mismanagement. Government officials and lawyers dispute the figure but attempts to settle the matter have failed.

Barring a settlement, the government has been investigating ways to perform an accounting. In one of his last official actions, former Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt signed off on a statistical sampling plan even though his top aides didn't know how much it would cost and were aware account holders did not support it.

Norton, in one of her first official actions, approved the plan in February, a day before she testified before the Senate Indian Affairs Committee that trust reform was one of her top priorities. In an explosive 50-page report, court monitor Joseph S. Kieffer said she did so without conducting any research into Babbitt's decision and only to show Congress that the Bush administration was pro-active on meeting its trust responsibilities.

Since then, Norton has dropped the sampling plan. Instead, she has created an Office of Historical Trust Accounting, whose director Bert Edwards -- a former State Department official under President Clinton -- will come up with a new plan on how to conduct a historical accounting.

Edwards' plan, which is to be done by consulting with account holders and Congress, is due within a month or so.

To address shortcomings in trust reform, the Interior is paying EDS Corporation, a management consulting firm, nearly $1 million to help Bureau of Indian Affairs managers carry out their duties more efficiently.

Interior officials were unavailable for comment yesterday.

Get Plaintiff's Documents:
Motion for Trial | Facts of Case

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:
Court monitor sets sights on software system (8/1)
McCaleb defends Norton on trust fund (7/16)
Norton slammed by trust fund monitor (7/12)
Trust fund account holders call for jail time (7/12)
Norton revamps trust fund system (7/11)
Norton drops trust fund sampling plan (7/10)

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