FROM THE ARCHIVE

Latest trust reform contract draws complaints

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FRIDAY, MARCH 1, 2002

The Department of Interior has signed another trust reform contract with a computer consulting company, drawing criticism from tribal leaders who feel they are being shut out.

Associate Deputy Secretary Jim Cason confirmed this week that EDS Corporation has been given a $2.5 million contract to examine the the "business processes" of the Indian trust system. According to Cason and other officials, the company will describe how the department carries out its asset management duties for hundreds of tribes and 300,000 American Indians.

Tribal leaders and their technical advisors agree the effort, the first of its kind for the department, is necessary to ensure failures like a $40 million trust accounting system won't be repeated. But they have questioned whether EDS has the proper qualifications, considering the firm's background as an information technology (IT) consultant.

"I'm a little concerned that we may be seeking help from the wrong vendor," said Brad Fleutsch, an Alaska Native representative, at the National Congress of American Indians in Washington, D.C., this week.

Initially, EDS was brought into examine technology-related aspects of trust reform. Hired last summer, its first task was to examine the Trust Asset Accounting and Management System (TAAMS) now deemed "inadequate" by Secretary Norton.

The firm's duties quickly expanded to take a look at all trust reform projects. By the end of last year, Norton spent $3 million on EDS, resulting in the production of two reports which have largely guided the department's latest efforts to fix the trust fund.

But department officials kept the documents from Indian Country, distributing them to a select few individuals. Top officials also initially refused to comment about the effort after Indianz.Com reported in November that EDS recommended a single person be placed in charge of trust.

The secrecy has angered tribal leaders, who asked department officials earlier this month to hold off on an approving an anticipated $7.3 million contract with EDS. But at a hearing before the Senate Indian Affairs Committee on Wednesday, Cason said the new deal was signed anyway, although he pointed out it was scaled back.

Cason also promised the committee EDS would work with a task force of tribal leaders. Responding to doubts raised by NCAI President Tex Hall at the hearing, he said it was a mere "communication problem."

"We haven't been involved," charged Hall.

Department officials, including Deputy Secretary J. Steven Griles and Special Trustee Tom Slonaker have praised EDS' efforts. During testimony in Norton's contempt trial, Griles said he wanted to hire EDS to produce quarterly assessments of trust reform.

Relevant Links:
EDS Corporation - http://www.eds.com
Indian Trust, Department of Interior - http://www.doi.gov/indiantrust
Indian Trust: Cobell v. Norton - http://www.indiantrust.com
Trust Reform, NCAI - http://130.94.214.68/main/pages/
issues/other_issues/trust_reform.asp

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