FROM THE ARCHIVE
Interior slammed on trust fund progress
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FRIDAY, NOVEMBER 30, 2001

The Department of Interior cannot be trusted to report its own progress on fixing more than 100 years of financial mismanagement, a court investigator charged on Thursday.

Despite having claimed completion of 11 tasks related to a key part of trust reform, the government cannot prove it has done so, special master Alan Balaran said. The Interior has made "inconsistent representations" about the steps it has taken to ensure the records of more than 300,000 American Indians are adequately maintained, he added.

"With the watchful eye of the Court over it, and the heightened responsibility Interior has as trustee of Indian funds, it would be reasonable to expect that careful records would be maintained evidencing the planning, implementation, and follow-up" of critical projects, wrote Balaran in a 13-page report.

"This is, unfortunately, not the case."

Balaran's findings are his first since launching an investigation into the government's records policies in February. Along the way, Secretary of Interior Gale Norton tried to hinder the probe but her challenges were rejected.

As a result, Norton may now face additional contempt charges for what has been uncovered. She has already been called to trial for submitting updates U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth has called "false and misleading."

In addition to being questioned by Lamberth, the reports have been the source of contentious debate at the Interior. Submitted every quarter, Norton's top trust fund official refused to sign off on the most recent one saying he was not "satisfied with the completeness or the quality of information" it contained.

Four senior managers also charged Norton's top legal official gave them an "intimidating" order to verify the report. Eventually, the document was turned in one month late after the Interior engaged in what Lamberth has characterized as "game-playing."

Combined with court monitor Joseph S. Kieffer's findings on the issue, Balaran's investigation adds fuel to the fire. He questions how reports dating back to the very first could have been verified as truthful.

"[I]t is difficult to comprehend how any official at Interior could have exercised any care, much less 'great care,' in ascertaining the accuracy of the information it filed with the Court," Balaran wrote.

Records management has long been a major sticking point in a five-year-old lawsuit seeking a proper accounting and restatement of individual Indian assets. Lamberth in February 1999 held three members of the Clinton administration in contempt and fined them $600,000 for failing to produce relevant documents.

The action came at the same time Department of Treasury employees in Maryland were destroying records. Government attorneys who knew about the shredding of 162 boxes of documents but waited months to inform Lamberth received only light punishment by the Treasury.

Subsequently, Balaran has uncovered destruction of documents at Federal Reserve banks and erasing of e-mails at the Interior. Destruction of records at Bureau of Indian Affairs regional offices has also been reported.

Get the Report:
FIRST INVESTIGATIVE REPORT OF THE SPECIAL MASTER (11/29)

Today on Indianz.Com:
Judicial role in Norton's fate recognized (11/30)
New NCAI president vows BIA fight (11/30)

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:
Report: Interior can't be trusted (11/29)
Trust fund progress testing 'credibility' (10/11)
Trust fund fix risking 'failure' (10/10)
Memo: Solicitor's order was 'intimidating' (10/10)
Objections delaying trust fund report (9/6)
DOJ plans action for destroyed trust records (8/17)
Treasury trust fund report unsealed (8/15)
Interior cited for destroyed e-mails (7/30)
Attempt to limit trust fund probe rejected (7/24)
Fed instructed to preserve documents (4/20)
Court investigator faults Federal Reserve (4/19)
More trust documents reported destroyed (3/16)
Trust fund investigation continues (3/9)
Norton's trust fund office to be investigated (2/13)
Records a continued source of problems in lawsuit (01/18)

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