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Interior computer agreement dropped
FRIDAY, DECEMBER 14, 2001

Last Updated: 4:30 p.m. Eastern Standard Time.

An agreement that would have allowed the Department of Interior to place certain computer systems back online in order to disburse critical funds to tribes and individual Indians has been withdrawn.

This morning in federal court, attorneys for Secretary of Interior Gale Norton attempted to use the agreement, finalized just yesterday, as a bargaining chip in the ongoing contempt proceedings against the Bush administration. Mark Nagle of the U.S. Attorney's office in Washington, D.C., argued that a contempt charge regarding information technology security should be dropped because the agreement, called a consent order, showed that the Interior was taking steps to fix its numerous security vulnerabilities.

Attorneys representing 300,000 American Indian beneficiaries opposed the argument and offered a compromise. Nagle and his team refused and as a result, the order was withdrawn.

U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth began hearing additional arguments on the issue at approximately 4:10 p.m. It is not known at this time whether he will issue a ruling today.

At a consultation meeting with Norton in Albuquerque, New Mexico, yesterday, tribes welcomed the brokering of the agreement. Many tribal leaders worried that general assistance and other payments would be delayed if the Interior's systems remained shut down.

Tex Hall, president of the National Congress of American Indians and chairman of the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara Nation of North Dakota, said the shutdown was one of the "major" concerns for tribes. "We requested the computers be hooked up," he said yesterday.

Now that the order has been withdrawn, whether those payments can be made on time is in doubt.

Today on Indianz.Com:
Tribes continue assault on Norton plan (12/14)

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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