Official: Trust fund progress 'stretches credibility'
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The government's method of reporting progress on the trust fund is so inconsistent and unreliable that it "stretches credibility," the Department of Interior's top-level trust fund official has told Secretary Gale Norton.

By relying on milestones to evaluate the government's progress, an inaccurate portrait of trust reform is presented, Special Trustee Tom Slonaker wrote in a memo to his boss. Quarterly reports provided to to the court overseeing the Cobell v. Norton lawsuit may be "factually correct" but do not give a hint of the true status of reform, warned Slonaker.

For example, Interior officials have publicly and privately praised the institution of a land title system in Alaska. But the project is nowhere near complete, Slonaker noted, despite claims presented in a February status update.

"At the current rate of completion," Slonaker wrote on September 10, "it will take years to bring the Alaska Region into an operational status."

"The information reported," he continued, "while factually correct, is not a comprehensive statement of the capability."

The Interior's reported progress on a $40 million software system is particularly troublesome, Slonaker told Norton. Going by milestones, the $40 million Trust Assets and Accounting Management System (TAAMS) should be up and running, since the government has told U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth that 19 out of 24 tasks are completed.

But since the system has run into numerous delays, obviously this is not the case, Slonaker said. Some of the project's failings, like the cleanup of trust fund records, have been chronicled by a court monitor while others, such as the recent crash of a critical software component, have been reported by Indianz.Com.

"This stretches credibility," said Slonaker of what is represented otherwise by the government.

In his landmark December 1999 ruling, Lamberth ordered the Interior to provide quarterly updates. Infighting and disputes about the reports have increased in recent months, as various officials and senior management point fingers and disclaim responsibility for the contents.

Court monitor Joseph S. Kieffer III has noted that attorneys in the Office of the Solicitor and senior Bureau of Indian Affairs management have edited out what would appear to be more truthful comments. Solicitor Bill Myers responded in part by removing two members of his staff from the trust fund and seeking an internal investigation.

But Myers has since drawn barbs from a group of trust reform managers who refused to certify the government's latest report, which was finally turned in last week after an unapproved one-month delay. An order to verify the contents was rather "intimidating," they told him in a memo.

The BIA has not confirmed it has taken action against staff or management. Kieffer identified Deputy Commissioner Sharon Blackwell, who reports directly to Assistant Secretary Neal McCaleb, as a player in the battle over the updates.

Get the 7th Quarterly Report:
Quarterly Status Report to the Court Number Seven (October 2001)

Relevant Links:
Office of the Special Trustee -
Trust Management Improvement Project -
Indian Trust: Cobell v. Norton -

Related Stories:
Official: Trust fund fix at 'great risk' of failure (10/10)
Memo: Solicitor's order was 'intimidating' (10/10)
In The Hoop: Interior Bungling (10/10)
Infighting delaying trust fund fix (9/20)
Objections delaying trust fund report (9/6)
Norton pushes trust fund progress (8/27)