FROM THE ARCHIVE

Failure of TAAMS traced to promoted manager

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THURSDAY, DECEMBER 20, 2001

Rewarded with monetary incentives and driven by "personal pride," the first project manager of a critical trust fund system resisted oversight of his efforts and gave overly glowing reports of his progress, a senior trust official said on Wednesday.

Rejecting strong suggestions by top Department of Interior officials, Dom Nessi hatched an aggressive development schedule for the Trust Asset and Accounting Management System (TAAMS), testified Tommy Thompson. Rather than take the time to "make this work," Nessi often pushed for limited testing of the system, and even suggested certain tests be eliminated altogether, he said.

"He was attempting to limit his responsibilities and role inappropriately," said Thompson. "He didn't always prevail, but he didn't always cooperate."

A key consequence of Nessi's bullish behavior, Thompson continued, was that the Bureau of Indian Affairs and Applied Terravision (Artesia Systems Group), the third-party contractor assigned to develop TAAMS, were never ready to have their work double-checked by an independent verifier. The last, and only time, such a review occurred was in late 1999, he said.

That test, confirmed Thompson, showed that only two out of 66 TAAMS functions could be demonstrated fully. But Nessi brushed off the results and was "dismissive" of user complaints about the system, he said.

At the same time, however, Nessi was presenting an unusually "upbeat" status of TAAMS to his superiors, tribes, American Indians and the public, Thompson said. Within months of former Secretary Bruce Babbitt's proud proclamation in the summer of 1999 that "TAAMS works," Thompson pointed out that Nessi was making statement to the press about his successes and even self-nominated the project for an award.

Yet senior officials in some ways egged on Nessi, admitted Thompson. Former Assistant Secretary for Policy, Management and Budget John Berry offered Nessi salary bonuses if he met certain TAAMS milestones, he said.

Nessi, recalled Thompson, at one point received $25,000 for doing just that.

At the time of the inception of TAAMS, Thompson was acting as the department's Special Trustee, due to the departure of Paul Homan. Along with Berry, former Assistant Secretary Kevin Gover and Chief Information Officer Daryl White, Thompson was assigned to watch over Nessi's progress.

Most of the time, Nessi didn't appreciate their directives even though Gover was his direct superior, claimed Thompson. "Nessi was resistant to the whole process in one way or another," he said.

Despite these problems, however, the top four officials agreed to move TAAMS beyond the pilot project at Billings, Montana. Thompson said he agreed to the decision only after a memo Nessi authored was watered down significantly.

The officials thought, recalled Thompson, that "we could manage our way back to completing TAAMS."

With a third-party consulting company, EDS Corporation, calling on Secretary Gale Norton to pull back development, that prognosis was faulty, Thompson agreed. "It's a large ship that is being slowed," he said, acknowledging that the EDS report "puts it all on hold."

Nessi, however, has moved on. After managing the TAAMS effort, he was promoted by Gover to the BIA's first Chief Information Officer, during which time he revealed the computer systems that house individual Indian trust data were open to hackers.

In July, when special master Alan Balaran was conducting an investigation into computer security, Nessi left his top post. He now works for the National Park Service in a similar position.

To date, about $40 million has been spent on TAAMS, with several million paid directly to Applied Terravision. Six different managers have dealt with the project and it now in the hands of Donna Erwin, pending a transition to the Bureau of Indian Trust Assets Management (BITAM).

Today on Indianz.Com:
TAAMS: The Titanic Failure (12/20)
Judge questions role in trust fund 'circus' (12/20)

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

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