FROM THE ARCHIVE

Interior still finalizing security plan

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TUESDAY, FEBRUARY 5, 2002

The Department of Interior plans to spend roughly $65 million over the next three years to improve its information technology systems, Secretary Gale Norton said on Monday.

But as the department enters the second month of a court-ordered Internet shutdown, officials have yet to finalize the steps they need to take to meet federal computer standards, Norton added. "We have a long-term plan that we have been formulating," she said, noting it wasn't ready because only recently has there been a focus on the issue.

As far as the immediate future, however, Norton had little to offer those who attended the rollout of her fiscal year 2003 budget. She said the department has received approval from a federal court to resume operation of only a few of its computer functions, meaning her tens of thousands of employees still lack e-mail, Internet and other network access.

The same point was driven home last week when a government attorney told a federal judge that out of dozens of systems at the Interior, only four have been restarted since December 5. That was when U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth ordered the Interior to cut Internet access to systems that house, or provide access to, the assets of 300,000 American Indians whose funds are at the center of a long-running class action.

For Indian Country, the effect has been substantial and dramatic. Tens of thousands of Indian beneficiaries have gone without royalty checks since November and tribal leaders have grown tired and increasingly upset with the situation.

"Indian Nations cannot afford to continue to be the trustee in Indian Country," said Navajo Nation council member Erwin Keeswood at last Friday's tribal consultation session in suburban Washington, D.C.

In an interview after yesterday's budget announcement, Assistant Secretary Neal McCaleb said improvements have been made in the Bureau of Indian Affairs computer systems. Although he did not know off-hand how much he has spent on security since last fall, when the BIA was first made aware of numerous security holes, he said firewalls are in place at the major BIA network centers in New Mexico, Arizona and Washington, D.C.

A key position within his office, however, remains unfulfilled. Dom Nessi stepped down as Chief Information Officer last summer, just as hackers were breaking into his systems, and the post remains vacant.

For now Debbie Clark, a career employee, and Bill Roselius, a consultant McCaleb hired in September to address IT issues, are handling the affair. But McCaleb said a full-time CIO should be installed soon.

"I'm anxious to get it done as soon as possible," he said.

McCaleb also defended a proposed move of the position from Washington to his home state of Oklahoma. Although the CIO reports to the Assistant Secretary's office, he argued that moving the post to Oklahoma City would make the job run smoother and would be cost effective.

"I think it's better for the person to be closer to where the work gets done," McCaleb said. "It's not geographically-centric."

So far, the BIA has only been allowed to restart the Integrated Records Management System (IRMS) to process certain royalties for beneficiaries. But because a key system operated by the Minerals Management Service (MMS) of the Interior remains shut down, oil and gas funds, which represent a large dollar amount, have yet to be disbursed.

Lamberth has been asked by attorneys representing the beneficiaries in the class action to order the Interior to process the checks. A decision has not been made. Special master Alan Balaran, whose investigation led to the shutdown, continues to work with the department.

Relevant Links:
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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