After seven years trust reform still lacks 'strategy'
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More than seven years after Congress directed the government to fix its trust fund problems and nearly three years after the Department of Interior finally created a plan to do so, no clear progress has been made on reforming the broken system, a management consulting firm has told Secretary Gale Norton.

In a draft report provided to Norton and her top aides last week, EDS Corporation paints a failing portrait of the government's much criticized efforts to correct more than 100 years of financial ineptitude. Based on a review of the government's High Level Implementation Plan (HLIP), the "blueprint" to reform, and four breaches of trust identified by a federal court, EDS has found that the Interior is not in compliance with federal law -- and won't ever be unless it revamps its entire outlook.

"Trust reform has lacked a vision or strategy," wrote EDS in a 170-page report. "As directed by [federal] law, there is not an overarching fiduciary focus to trust management, activities and operations."

With regard to eleven tasks identified in the HLIP, the report becomes more specific. EDS acknowledges there has been "substantial progress" in some projects, such as management and retention of trust fund records.

But while EDS says the government can point to successes in these areas, additional problems have surfaced over the years. In some cases, the Interior hasn't even gotten around to determining how much work as to be done, said the report.

"The trust reform subprojects are not well coordinated or integrated," writes EDS. "Beneficiaries are not receiving appropriate services [and] inefficiencies exist in the management of the trust."

When it comes to four breach of trust projects identified by U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth, the assessment isn't much better. While a "plan to do a plan" may exist, as Lamberth himself has described some of the Interior's efforts, the government still has a "considerable amount of work" to correct these problems, said EDS.

Coming at a time when Norton and Assistant Secretary Neal McCaleb face five contempt charges for their handling of the trust, the EDS report solidifies in many ways the testimony of the sole witness who has taken the stand. Just yesterday, Principal Deputy Special Trustee Tommy Thompson, the second highest-ranking trust official, said he believed there are many reform efforts "underway."

At he same time, he wasn't able to point to significant movement on key issues such as an historical accounting or a $40 million software system on which EDS has told Norton to halt all development. While he said "the story isn't over yet" with regards to telling beneficiaries to the Individual Indian Money (IIM) trust how much money they are owed, he admitted the Bush administration won't even have a plan to conduct an accounting until summer 2002.

On other basic trust duties, both Thompson and EDS appear in agreement. For example, Thompson testified on Monday that the Bureau of Land Management, an agency of the Interior, hasn't fully surveyed the 11 million acres of land held in trust for individual Indians.

Yet this "fundamental" obligation doesn't even have a project manager, a plan, a schedule or even enough money to attack its huge backlog, EDS confirmed. The department estimates it will take $62 million to survey the lands but only has $6.5 in this current fiscal year to do so, the report states.

The EDS report has yet to be made public, although Deputy Secretary J. Steven Griles indicated in a private meeting with a select group of tribal leaders and government advisors last week he would do so soon. According to court documents Norton's defense team has filed, a final version will be made available, including a scheduling "roadmap," on January 10, 2002, well into her scheduled consultation with tribes and Native Americans on her proposal to create a new Bureau of Indian Trust Assets Management to handle the trust.

EDS was paid nearly $3 million to assess trust reform. A report on two aspects, the Trust Asset and Accounting Management System (TAAMS) and an inter-related subproject known as data cleanup, was made available just last month after tribal leaders insisted it be made public.

The Interior's "indiantrust" web site, heralded as the place Indian Country can turn to for trust information, is still inaccessible as a result of a department-wide Internet shutdown.

Today on Indianz.Com:
Confusion, conflict detailed at Interior (12/12)
Attorneys barred from BITAM consultation (12/12)
EDS trust reform report online (12/12)

Get the Report:
DOI Trust Reform Observations and Recommendations: “For Comments” Report (12/6)

Relevant Links:
EDS Corporation -
Indian Trust, Department of Interior -
Office of the Special Trustee -
Trust Management Improvement Project -
Indian Trust: Cobell v. Norton -

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