EDS rewrite includes bigger focus on tribes
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Fifth in a series of articles about the state of trust reform.

Once tribes had time to digest Secretary of Interior Gale Norton's controversial proposal to create a new Indian trust agency, a large focus of their criticism was her reliance on the documents generated by a management consulting firm she hired to make sense of the debacle.

After all, tribes point out, it was EDS Corporation who told Norton in late October to "immediately appoint a single, accountable, trust reform sponsor." Were it not for this important recommendation, she might not have ever told a federal judge she was stripping the Bureau of Indian Affairs of its core duties and handing them -- along with $300 million in federal funds -- to this unnamed official, tribes note.

Responding to the assault, Interior officials began to make public the documents that had been kept from tribal leaders. After significant prodding, the reports were finally placed on a skeleton web site days after Deputy Secretary J. Steven Griles promised they would be there.

But the action did little to stem the wrath of Indian Country, as tribal leaders discovered that EDS' $3 million reports weren't the holy grail they sought. "The EDS report had to be bootlegged," Navajo Nation Speaker Edward T. Begay told Norton last month, "and the most important thing that would impact our people, we turned to that page and it was blank."

"How can we consult on a blank page?"

Filling in the Blanks
Hired last summer to look at trust reform, EDS Corporation has produced two major documents that are guiding Norton's efforts to reorganize the failing effort. The first focused on the problems of a $40 million trust accounting system and included a recommendation to halt its development and look for alternatives, a suggestion Norton and her top officials have since embraced.

And after a two-week delay, the second report on the overall state of trust reform has been finalized. Still not available on the department's web site, tribal leaders who read the draft won't be surprised at its contents, although there are attempts to fill in the blanks.

The first are what EDS calls "roadmaps," otherwise known as a time-directed and task-oriented guide to getting from one point in trust to another presumably more effective point. Presented for 11 reform and four breach projects, EDS writes: "The purpose of these roadmaps is to provide high level guidance in moving forward from the current state to the desired future state."

Also, for the first time, EDS has noted that "early" tribal input is the key to successful change. In a significant rewrite of a portion of the draft report that merely suggested tribes be "invited" to participate, EDS now observes: "The new trust organization must hold regular, government-to-government consultations with Indian Nations to discuss major trust reform initiatives prior to their implementation."

Of course, consultation is what tribal leaders have demanded -- not to mention what executive orders require -- all along. And despite the rewrite, consultation is precisely what the EDS effort so far has not allowed, they say.

Still, tribes have been able to delay the reorganization, one of their major goals after the plan was announced. Norton has also agreed to let a tribal task force develop alternatives, although National Congress of American Indians officials have complained she and Assistant Secretary Neal McCaleb aren't willing to fund the panel fully.

As the disagreement is ironed out, tribal leaders will be meeting on Thursday to further digest the EDS report in advance of Friday's Bureau of Indian Trust Assets Management (BITAM) meeting in suburban Washington, D.C. Although Norton is not expected to attend the session, she is slated to meet with tribal leaders afterwards for more discussion on task force alternatives, as well as related litigation and legislative issues.

Other Trust Reform Updates:
Intro | Secretary's Observations | Special Trustee Observations | Trust Transition Observations | Departmental Organization | Historical Accounting | Computer Security | Trust Management | Data Cleanup

Get the 8th Quarterly Report:
Status Report to the Court Number Eight (1/16)

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

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