Court monitor to oversee trust reform
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APRIL 17, 2001

Trust reform just got a little costlier on Monday with a federal judge's decision to appoint a $250-an-hour court monitor to oversee fledgling efforts at the Department of Interior.

Already expected to receive upwards of $165 million in fiscal year 2002 alone, the appointment of Joseph S. Kieffer III will undoubtedly drive up the price tag of the government's attempt to correct more than one hundred years of financial mismanagement. Despite the potentially high cost to taxpayers, however, both sides of the issue yesterday welcomed the addition of the court monitor and said it was a step in the right direction.

"If [Kieffer] can ensure that trust reform is going to occur, this is a pittance compared to the true cost of letting [the government] waste millions of dollars in an attempt to mislead the court," said Geoffrey Rempel, an accountant representing the plaintiffs who are suing the government for a proper and historical accounting of their trust assets.

"This is a relatively cheap solution if its going to make sure trust reform is carried out," said Rempel.

Interior spokesperson Stephanie Hanna was equally positive. "We welcome the action of appointing an independent monitor because we believe it can be constructive in accomplishing this administration's goals of advancing trust reform," she said.

Judge Royce Lamberth's appointment comes in the wake of a once-private Bureau of Indian Affairs memorandum in which Chief Information Officer Dom Nessi criticized reform. In a February 23 letter to the Interior official charged with financial responsibility of trust accounts, Nessi said reform "is slowly, but surely imploding."

Defending the Interior before two Congressional committees, Special Trustee Tom Slonaker last month said he agreed with Nessi on some points and disagreed on others. But the plaintiffs allege Slonaker has failed to disclose the true status of reform in the quarterly reports mandated by Lamberth and said the court monitor will pick up where he leaves off.

"Between the court-appointed Special Master and now a court-appointed Monitor, Interior is getting boxed in in a way that should finally make it harder to mislead the court," said lead plaintiff Elouise Cobell, a Blackfeet Nation of Montana banker.

Kieffer is expected to begin his work immediately. It is not known yet how often he will provide reports to the court.

On a related issue, the plaintiffs yesterday criticized Secretary of Interior Gale Norton for what they characterized as an attempt to hamper an investigation in her Office of Trust Records. Special Master Alan Balaran in February began an investigation into the office, which oversees the records of tribes and an estimated 300,000 American Indians throughout the country.

Hanna yesterday denied the allegations and said Norton is complying with court orders to fix the system at all levels of the Interior and the BIA.

"The Secretary is very committed to trust reform," said Hanna.

For fiscal year 2002, the Interior has requested approximately $165 million for reform at the BIA and the Office of the Special Trustee (OST).

Recent Court Documents:
Appointment of Court Monitor to oversee trust reform (4/16)
Opposition to Interior's Attempt to limit OTR investigation (4/16)

Relevant Links:
Indian Trust: Cobell v. Norton -

Only on Indianz.Com:
The Trust Fund Fiasco (Smoke Signals 1999)

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