FROM THE ARCHIVE

Norton ordered to submit trust fund report

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TUESDAY, DECEMBER 18, 2001

Secretary of Interior Gale Norton's attempt to circumvent a court order was thwarted on Monday when a federal judge directed her to take personal responsibility for a trust fund report she has been refusing to turn in.

Norton has 30 days to submit the quarterly status update, said U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth. Not only that, she "must sign" all future documents and "must comply" with a December 1999 order that placed the reporting requirement on the Department of Interior, he said.

"I am not trying to tell the Secretary what the reporting has to be and how the reporting has to be composed," Lamberth said, "but the Secretary must sign it personally."

Already more than a month overdue, the report has been the subject of much debate in recent weeks, and particularly during Norton's contempt trial, which entered its second week yesterday. The document would be the eighth since Lamberth ordered the government to report its progress on fixing more than one hundred years of mismanagement of the Individual Indian Money (IIM) trust.

But while Norton has claimed to have made progress during the months of July, August and September, she balked at informing Lamberth of the status of trust reform. Instead, she asked to turn in reports prepared by EDS Corporation -- which cost taxpayers $3 million -- and a "blueprint" for an historical accounting she has yet to undertake.

With that request rejected, Lamberth has placed full responsibility for the document on Norton's hands. During the Clinton administration, former Secretary Bruce Babbitt never signed off on reports his department submitted, making Norton the first to have to comply with the requirement.

That doesn't mean Norton, or Babbitt, are off the hook for the updates. One of the contempt charges the Bush administration faces is "committing a fraud on the court by filing false and misleading quarterly status reports," dating back to March 2000, the first such report.

Norton herself was blasted by court monitor Joseph S. Kieffer III for turning in her 7th quarterly report a month late without permission from the court. Her top trust official, Special Trustee Tom Slonaker, refused to sign off on it because he would not take responsibility for what he believed was inaccurate and incomplete information.

During the past few days of contempt testimony witness Tommy Thompson, second-in-command to the Special Trustee, has testified repeatedly of disputes over the reports. Government attorneys and senior management never agreed on what to tell Lamberth, leading to revisions, edits and even deletions of particular details, he testified.

"It's really a subterfuge," Lamberth said when told of the selective reporting regarding a limited historical accounting of Indian funds. "The decision had been made and it was covered up with this language."

Attorneys representing 300,000 beneficiaries to the IIM trust had been opposing Norton's request to hold back the report. The Department of Interior did not return a request for comment.

Get the ORder:
Order on Quarterly Reports (12/17)

Today on Indianz.Com:
Judge orders Interior reconnect (12/18)

Relevant Links:
Indian Trust, Department of Interior - http://indiantrust.doi.gov
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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