On trust the problems remain the same
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MONDAY, MAY 13, 2002

It's not called the Trust Asset and Accounting Management System (TAAMS) anymore. The $40 million project whose documented failures led to its premature halt earlier this year has been recast as simply "Trust Systems."

The related effort previously known as Bureau of Indian Affairs Data Cleanup goes by a new name too. It's "BIA Trust Data Quality Analysis."

And remember that blueprint to reform that Congress directed the Department of Interior to devise in order to fix the chronic mismanagement of Indian trust assets? The Bush administration hasn't settled on an updated moniker yet although Secretary Gale Norton seems to favor "operations plan" while Ross Swimmer, the aide in charge of taking the entire system to a new level, still goes by "strategic plan."

Why all the changes? The department, as Norton points out, is in "transition" from its current ineffective organization to a structure still under heavy, and slow-moving, debate in Indian Country.

But the new EDS-inspired buzzwords -- "beneficiary-focused," "trust business model," "trust processes" -- can't hide the continued challenges noted in the department's latest status update. Managerial, logistical, technical and other obstacles plague the effort as they did in the past, according to the report.

Applied TerraVision, the Texas company behind TAAMS, for instance, was bought out in March. The new Canadian owners are being evaluated for "financial sufficiency" while the department has put a halt to all TAAMS-related software.

Currently, one portion of the TAAMS software is in "limited" use at just four BIA offices, the report admits. But there are still some bugs to be worked out at some unspecified future date.

A change in name hasn't decreased the data cleanup workload, either. The BIA has a backlog of tens of thousands of cases which, according to one court official, could take years to resolve.

Despite the acknowledged problems, trying to put a time-frame on the effort is an exercise in futility. Unlike the High Level Implementation Plan (HLIP), whose time-stamped milestones guided reform until Norton scrapped it earlier this year, there are no concrete dates to bog down the Bush administration.

"The trust reform model under HLIP placed projects in a linear vacuum without integration," the report explains.

All of this has Special Trustee Tom Slonaker worried. "Indian trust reform is now at a critical watershed," he writes, citing the ongoing consultation with tribes.

Slonaker's solution is to "jumpstart" projects he feels are important regardless of the outcome of reorganization. His plan, however, was rejected by Norton last month in a memo critical of his performance.

But if there is a light at the end of the tunnel, Swimmer sees it. By the end of the year, he foresees the start of a full-scale reorganization.

"Implementation will be a multi-year endeavor," he writes in the report.

Related Documents:
9th Quarterly Report

Relevant Links:
Indian Trust, Department of Interior -
Indian Trust: Cobell v. Norton -
Trust Reform, NCAI -

Related Stories:
Deadline nears on accounting plan (5/7)
No one jumps into trust fund hot seats (5/6)