Trust fund response due in court this week
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After being given an extension by a critical federal judge, the Department of Interior this week will submit its response to a lengthy court motion calling for the government to be stripped of its oversight of the trust fund.

At the same time, Secretary of Interior Gale Norton's new lawyers must argue why she and numerous other government officials, attorneys and senior management should not be held in contempt for the entire debacle. U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth is ready to hold a trial that could impose civil and criminal penalties on Norton and others, and the government's defense team faces a tough battle to avoid the charges.

But as the Bush administration under the leadership of Deputy Secretary J. Steven Griles seeks to prove it is in charge of trust reform, the Interior's plan to maintain control of the Individual Indian Money (IIM) trust rests largely on a report it quietly submitted to Lamberth last week. Written by EDS Corporation, a consulting firm Norton hired in the summer, the report contains 13 recommendations which are deemed necessary to ensure success of reform efforts.

Top Interior officials including Solicitor Bill Myers have refused to comment on the report, claiming it is a draft and not a final product. Instead, they have forwarded their responses to EDS, who will issue another document tomorrow.

Among the recommendations officials have been mulling is an urgent request to appoint an "executive sponsor" who would be the sole person directing the reform effort. Currently, the fix is fractionated among the Office of the Special Trustee and the Bureau of Indian Affairs and although the two have pledged cooperation, EDS recommends the sponsor have total line and budget authority over both.

Along these lines, EDS also recommends the government develop a better staffing and management plan in order to prevent the Interior from ignoring its existing duties to tribes and Indians. "Regional offices are already understaffed in key areas," writes EDS, which "jeopardize the department's ability to comply with ongoing trust responsibilities."

But by far, the majority of EDS's 13 recommendations focus on a $40 million computer system that has been largely been criticized as a failure. Known as the Trust Asset Accounting and Management System (TAAMS), the project is behind schedule and is faced with even more delays as software bugs are being uncovered on a regular basis.

The government hasn't clearly defined TAAMS, writes EDS, and keeps changing it constantly. That has exacerbated internal communication problems, says EDS, but has also hindered the Interior's relationship with Artesia Systems Group / Applied TerraVision, the company that has been contracted to produce TAAMS.

Not only that, the government still hasn't come to grips with a key component of TAAMS known as data cleanup, EDS claims. Without data cleanup, TAAMS is useless yet the BIA and Artesia, in the words of one senior Interior official, keep "tinkering" with the system.

Data cleanup, the official said, is "in worse shape than anybody ever thought."

To correct the failure, EDS says the TAAMS and data cleanup projects must be fully integrated under a single person with full authority and accountability. Currently, two BIA employees -- Chet Mills and Terry Virden, who also oversees the Office of Trust Responsibilities -- are managing the projects but EDS recommends only one person be in charge.

Once EDS compiles the Interior's responses to its recommendations, the firm will create a "road map" for implementing them. Norton's lawyers are expected to give a copy to Lamberth and may ask for more time to put the plan into place.

The government's responses are due on Thursday and Lamberth has scheduled a November 30 hearing to discuss what comes next.

EDS Corporation has been paid about $3 million for its services.

Get the Recommendations:
EDS Summary Findings and Recommendations (11/13)

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

Related Stories:
Norton hires own defense lawyer (11/9)
Norton told to appoint trust fund receiver (11/7)
Griles taking lead on trust reform (11/5)
Norton's defense off to a 'bad start' (11/2)
Judge ready to hold Norton in contempt (10/31)
Interior promises trust fund defense (10/31)
Judge: Norton's actions 'contemptuous' (10/30)
Trust fund defense team scrapped (10/30)
Action on Norton urged 'on all fronts' (10/29)
Norton views broken trust fund system (10/29)