Interior proposal strips BIA of trust duties
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In a late night court filing that came after hours of negotiations, the Department of Interior on Wednesday told a federal judge it will strip the Bureau of Indian Affairs of its trust responsibilities.

Under the proposal submitted to U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth, the government's trust duties will be handed to a brand new agency called the Bureau of Indian Trust Assets Management. The new agency would be headed by its own Assistant Secretary who will require Senate confirmation.

The BIA would continue to handle all other duties not related to trust. These would include education and construction, among other tasks.

Assistant Secretary Neal McCaleb and Special Trustee Tom Slonaker agreed to the changes last night. A joint memo they signed calls for a "dramatic change in organization and management structure for Indian trust reform and trust operations."

"The structure we recommend has the strength of, once and for all, establishing a single, accountable manager and management structure for the conduct of most Departmental Indian trust operations and trust reform," they write.

In response, Secretary Gale Norton said she "enthusiastically" supports her subordinates' decision. She has already directed her staff to begin the changes -- an effort currently being overseen by her second in command, J. Steven Griles.

Along with the plan, Griles responds to the question Lamberth pushed the government to answer at a status hearing last month. In a sworn testimonily, he declares he, for the time being, is in charge of trust reform.

That, however, will soon change as the department creates the new agency. To facilitate the movement, the Interior will create an Office of Trust Transition to be headed by Donna Erwin, who will report directly to Norton.

"As the officially currently in charge of trust reform," concludes Griles, "I understand that reorganization by itself does not solve the numerous problems, but it does provide an avenue for developing solutions."

New Indian Agency: Draft Organizational Chart

Today on Indianz.Com:
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Relevant Links:
Office of the Special Trustee -
Trust Management Improvement Project -
Indian Trust: Cobell v. Norton -

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