Q&A on BIA Reorganization
Facebook Twitter Email

Questions and Answers on the proposal to strip the Bureau of Indian Affairs of its trust duties and hand them to a new agency. Brought to you by Indianz.Com.

Q: What is this new agency?
It's called the Bureau of Indian Trust Assets Management (BITAM). It would be overseen by an Assistant Secretary and would have its own director.

Q: Who is going to run it?
That has not been made public yet. According to the National Congress of American Indians, the Bush administration has candidates in mind.

Q: Will it be run by an Indian?
Again, according to the National Congress of American Indians and Associate Deputy Secretary James Cason, the person is likely to be a tribal member with trust management experience.

Q: Who'd want to run this?
According to former Assistant Secretary Kevin Gover: "a damn fool."

Q: Can they really do this?
Yes. The reorganization can happen through secertarial order. And if not through Congress, the Interior can quickly create an Assistant Secretary, said Gover. The Assistant Secretary would still have to be confirmed, though, most likely by the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs.

Q: I work for the BIA. Am I going to have a new boss?
That depends. If you work in education, gaming, federal recognition, economic development, construction and other social programs, those duties will be handled by the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

Q: But I work in probate / realty / self-government compacts / asset management / trust records!
Say hello to your new boss. Also, see the draft organizational chart.

Q: I work for the BIA and I'm Indian. What's up?
Indian preference is only in place at the Bureau of Indian Affairs. The Interior has not said if BITAM will institute the same policy.

Q: So how did this happen?
Facing pressure from a federal judge, the proposal is a part of an attempt to show that the government is in charge of trust reform. But even earlier, since July, Secretary of Interior Gale Norton and her top officials have been moving to push the Bush administration's stamp on trust management.

Q: Wait a minute, doesn't the lawsuit you're talking about affect individual Indian trust accounts?
Yes. But the proposal would affect both tribal and individual Indian trust responsibilities. For this reason, tribal leaders are incredibly concerned.

Q: How is this going to happen?
Norton has provided few details beyond what she submitted to a court on Wednesday night and what she announced yesterday. Her department has given briefings to members of Congress, employees and labor unions, saying it is a plan that will be fleshed out over time.

Q: So how much time are we talking about?
No one knows for sure. A consulting firm Norton hired says the Interior needs a year to consult with tribal leaders and other stakeholders, to define the agency structure and to allow for a transition period.

Q: But what about funding?
Once the structure is set, it would probably take an additional year to secure funding and to authorize the new agency. Norton is resubmitting her fiscal year 2003 budget projections to account for the creation of BITAM.

Q: Isn't that cutting it close to the end of the Bush administration?
Yes. While no one can predict what will happen, it certainly looks like this new agency won't be finalized and up an running until President Bush is at the end of his term.

Q: Will the judge go for that?
Ask the judge. He's scheduled a hearing on November 30 to address these and other ruminations.

Q: So what's going on with stuff right now?
According to a court filing, Donna Erwin will oversee three projects: the Trust Asset and Accounting Management System (TAAMS), BIA Data Cleanup and Probate. She will run the Office of Trust Transition and will report directly to Norton.

Q: Didn't Norton already create some trust office?
Yes. In July, she created the Office of Historical Trust Accounting to tell individual Indians how much money they are owed. This office will be realigned under BITAM once the reorganization is complete.

Q: What is Special Trustee Tom Slonaker going to be doing?
According to the department, he will retain his "oversight" role into trust reform.

Q: But what about X / Y / Z?
If you have additional questions about the reorganization and its ramifications, please submit them to and we will do our best to track down the answer. Use our feedback form if you don't wish to disclose your e-mail address.