Court looks into TAAMS 'concealment'
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A quarterly report Secretary of Interior Gale Norton submitted to a federal judge was excised of negative comments about a trust fund computer system, according to a comparison of court documents.

A draft copy of the 8th report, dated November 2001, contained a lengthy analysis of the Trust Asset and Accounting Management System (TAAMS). It detailed funding problems, lack of resources and numerous obstacles to successful deployment of a system pitched as the solution to more than a century of Indian trust fund mismanagement.

"The lack of a reliable and smooth flow of funding continues to limit the ability of the TAAMS team to address issues in a timely fashion," the draft stated.

But when the report was sent to U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth in January 2002, much of the explanation was removed. In its place was a shorter section that didn't document all the challenges facing TAAMS.

The finalized report, however, was significant in that Norton announced a halt to further development of TAAMS. The $40 million project was then handed to Ross Swimmer, director of the Office of Indian Trust Transition, to salvage.

Nevertheless, Lamberth wants to find out if anything was withheld. In a court order dated Tuesday, he directed his special master Alan Balaran to determine whether "Interior engaged in any such concealment" of information.

The investigation is significant because the quarterly reports played a major role in Norton's contempt trial. "It's really a subterfuge," Lamberth said during the trial when told of the selective reporting. "The decision had been made and it was covered up with this language."

In his September 17 decision, Lamberth found that the reports provided a less than accurate picture of trust reform.

The 8th report also carries extra weight because of events surrounding its release. Norton personally signed it after Lamberth criticized her for trying to submit, at the last minute, another document authored by EDS Corporation, a management consulting firm.

Just months earlier, Norton delayed the 7th quarterly report due to infighting with former Special Trustee Tom Slonaker. Known as an internal critic who challenged the Bush administration's claims of progress, he was ousted from his position this past July.

His replacement is Donna Erwin, one of his former aides. Erwin personally certified the section of the 8th report that contained the TAAMS changes.

Assistant Secretary Neal McCaleb, who also was held in contempt for providing misleading information about TAAMS and trust reform, verified some of the information as well. He is under a separate court investigation for erasing e-mails in contravention of BIA policy and court orders.

The court's inquiry into the 8th report was spurred by the complaints of Native American Industrial Distributors (NAID), an Indian-owned company based in Maryland. The firm drafted the TAAMS section in question and contends it was fired for being truthful.

Norton's attorneys have denied the allegations. Lamberth subsequently rejected the company's attempt to intervene in the Cobell lawsuit, citing the dispute as one of a contractual nature.

Relevant Documents:
Lamberth Order (November 5, 2002) | Draft 8QR: TAAMS (November 2001) | Final 8QR: TAAMS (January 2002)

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

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