FROM THE ARCHIVE
Two years ago an order on trust
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FRIDAY, DECEMBER 21, 2001

On December 21, 1999, U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth issued what he called a "stunning victory" for 300,000 American Indian beneficiaries whose trust assset have been mismanaged for more than a century.

"It would be difficult to find a more historically mismanaged federal program than the Individual Indian Money (IIM) trust," Lamberth began in his 142-page landmark decision. "The United States, the trustee of the IIM trust, cannot say how much money is or should be in the trust."

Two years later, Lamberth has discovered, not much has changed.

After receiving a promise from then-Secretary of Interior Bruce Babbitt to bring the "ship" of trust reform into "safe harbor," a series of scatching court reports and opinions have shown that the government is still, in many ways, in much the same position as it was in December 1999. A full and accurate accounting of funds owned to beneficiaries is far off, a $40 million trust accounting system is in shambles and current Secretary Gale Norton has made a promise of her own to make trust reform a reality.

"I mean, I just have to think out loud what have I accomplished in spending the hours and weeks I've sat here?" Lamberth said this week during Norton's contempt trial. "I just don't understand what it is that the court has actually accomplished."

. . .

"The Indian Trust Fund Management Reform Act," wrote Lamberth in 1999, "requires defendants to provide plaintiffs an accurate accounting of all money in the IIM trust held in trust for the benefit of plaintiffs, without regard to when the funds were deposited."

"As of the date of this report, and over one and one-half years following the Court’s decision directing the Interior defendants’ to conduct an historical accounting, the historical accounting project remains undefined, understaffed and, with few exceptions, at the starting gate," wrote court monitor Joseph S. Kieffer III on July 12, 2001.

. . .

"The Indian Trust Fund Management Reform Act," wrote Lamberth, "requires defendants to retrieve and retain all information concerning the IIM trust that is necessary to render an accurate accounting of all money in the IIM trust held in trust for the benefit of plaintiffs."

"While the records retention and collection project will support a records-based accounting and is making progress, there is no present evidence that the Interior defendants will base their historical accounting project on extensive use of these documents," wrote Kieffer.

. . .

The federal government, wrote Lamberth, has a trust duty to "establish written policies and procedures for collecting from outside sources missing information necessary to render an accurate accounting of the IIM trust."

"The collection of missing information from third parties breach project in support of this accounting has never been in compliance with this Court’s order," concluded Kieffer.

. . .

The federal government, wrote Lamberth, has a trust duty to "establish written policies and procedures for the retention of IIM-related trust documents necessary to render an accurate accounting of the IIM trust."

"The Office of Trust Records has made substantial progress in the retention, cleaning and storing of Federal Records," wrote EDS Corporation on December 6, 2001. "However, the full-unified records management solution objective has not been met and a considerable amount of work is required to be complete."

. . .

The federal government, wrote Lamberth, must "establish written policies and procedures for computer and business systems architecture necessary to render an accurate accounting of the IIM trust."

"No plan exists to help trust leadership to understand what architecture is, its value and how they would use it," wrote EDS.

. . .

The federal government, wrote Lamberth, is obligated to "establish written policies and procedures for the staffing of trust management functions necessary to render an accurate accounting of the IIM trust."

"Workforce planning involves hiring, recruiting efforts, staffing, retention, and individual development planning," wrote EDS. "However, in recent months the subproject’s focus has shifted to filling vacancies rather than overall workforce planning. No comprehensive workforce planning effort is being implemented at this time."

. . .

"It really makes you wonder why I'm sitting here, doesn't it?" said Lamberth this week.

"Do I have to answer that, Your Honor?" responded a senior trust official.

"No."

. . .

Today on Indianz.Com:
Contempt trial breaking for Christmas (12/21)
IIM checks being delayed at Interior (12/21)
Interior can't find proof of corruption (12/21)

Get Lamberth's Order:
MEMORANDUM OPINION: FINDINGS OF FACT AND CONCLUSIONS OF LAW (December 21, 1999)

Relevant Links:
Indian Trust, Department of Interior - http://www.doi.gov/indiantrust
Indian Trust: Cobell v. Norton - http://www.indiantrust.com

Related Stories:
Norton drops objections to court monitor (12/20)
TAAMS: The Titanic Failure (12/20)
Judge questions role in trust fund 'circus' (12/20)
TAAMS failure traced to promoted manager (12/20)
Ruling on court monitor put off (12/20)
Judge rebuffs Norton challenge (12/17)
Week two of trial continues today (12/17)
History of neglect drives trust case (12/17)
Judge eager for Norton testimony (12/13)
Editorial: Bad faith, wasted dollars (12/13)
Confusion, conflict detailed at Interior (12/12)
Exclusive: Trust reform assessment (12/12)
Lamberth pokes fun at government (12/12)
EDS trust reform report online (12/12)
Coverage of Contempt Trial, Day 2 (12/12)
Contempt trial continues (12/11)
Contested reports focus of contempt trial (12/11)
The Trial: Witnesses to Contempt (12/11)
Coverage of Contempt Trial, Day 1 (12/11)
Norton contempt trial opens (12/10)
Norton attacks court monitor (12/10)
Norton set for contempt trial (12/10)

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