Special trust fund hearing requested
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JUNE 29, 2001

Worried about the progress the government has made to correct more than one hundred years of financial mismanagement, a bipartisan group of lawmakers on Thursday asked the House Committee on Resources to hold a special oversight hearing into the trust fund system.

"The federal government has stonewalled on this issue for far too long," the group wrote. "Native Americans are entitled to an accurate accounting of the money the federal government has held in trust for them."

The trust fund system has long been an area of concern for the committee, which has jurisdiction over Indian affairs. Just as the landmark Cobell v. Norton lawsuit was getting underway, the committee's Task Force on Indian Trust Fund Management in 1996 held a number of hearings nationwide to discuss the government's failed attempt to manage the trust assets of an estimated 300,000 American Indians.

Since then, the government has devised a plan to implement a new accounting system that it says will resolve numerous problems. But five years later, key parts of the system are still not in place as members of Congress have become skeptical the Department of Interior can put together a fix.

Due to historical problems in records keeping, full implementation of the system is four years away. And while all the accounts were converted to a computerized system in March 2000, the monetary statements mailed to account holders every quarter are not guaranteed to be accurate.

Still, the government has been paying SEI Investments, a Pennsylvania firm, millions of dollars in contract funds ever year to keep the Trust Fund Accounting System (TFAS) up and running with no guarantees it will ever provide correct balances. In fiscal year 2001, SEI's contract was worth $11.5 million and the Bush administration is requesting $13.1 million for the company in 2002.

Meanwhile, a second part of the fix which is supposed to provide accurate data to TFAS has faced delays. Known as the Trust Asset and Accounting Management System (TAAMS), the government has spent almost $40 million on a project the Bureau of Indian Affairs' top computer expert recently said was contributing to an "implosion" of trust reform.

"[T]he philosophy of TAAMS has changed at least three times," wrote Dom Nessi in a February memo. "As Yogi Berra once said, 'If you don't know where you are going, you end up somewhere else.'"

According to Neal McCaleb, President Bush's pick to head the Bureau of Indian Affairs, the program has failed to meet expectations. "One of the problems with TAAMS is when it was started, it was supposed to be off-the-shelf software that we were going to tweak a little bit," he told Indianz.Com.

But instead, he said, "What we're ending up doing is completely re-constructing that program." The Bush administration has requested $18.6 million to continue the TAAMS project in fiscal year 2002.

In total, Congress has appropriated $614 million to try and fix the system.

The members of Congress who signed yesterday's letter to Resources Committee Chairman Jim Hansen (R-Utah) were Reps. Denny Rehberg (R-Mont.), J.D. Hayworth (R-Ariz.), Richard Pombo (R-Calif.), Mike Simpson (R-Idaho). Mary Bono (R-Calif.), Dale Kildee (D-Mich.), Frank Pallone (D-N.J.), Brad Carson (D-Okla.), Greg Walden (R-Ore.), and Heather Wilson (R-N.M.).

Today on Indianz.Com:
Interior holding back security reports (6/29)

Relevant Links:
House Resources Committee -
SEI Investments -
Office of the Special Trustee -
Trust Management Improvement Project -
Indian Trust: Cobell v. Norton -

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