Status of trust fund software irks judge
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More than two years after the development of a cornerstone of trust reform began, the Department of Interior cannot prove that critical parts of a $40 million software system are in working order, a senior trust reform official testified on Wednesday.

Of the more than 60 documented functions required of the Trust Asset and Accounting Management System (TAAMS), only two have been shown to be complete, acknowledged witness Tommy Thompson. The second highest-ranking trust official within the Interior, Thompson said these tasks were independently verified in the winter of 1999 -- but no further third-party analysis has been conducted since.

"This problem has not been corrected," Thompson said, "in TAAMS system development."

Despite knowing of the nearly 100 percent failure rate of the system, Thompson testified that he, former Assistant Secretary Kevin Gover and two other department officials agreed to move development forward. Based on what he called "upbeat" projections by former TAAMS project manager Dom Nessi, he recommended in November 1999 to former Secretary Bruce Babbitt that work continue.

Defending the decision to a skeptical federal judge overseeing the debacle, Thompson said the problems experienced at the Interior weren't out of the ordinary. All large software projects, even ones that succeed, encounter difficulties, he said.

"It's not a pretty picture," Thompson told U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth, "but there are colossal failures and significant successes."

Lamberth, who repeatedly voiced his displeasure with the handling of the project throughout a particularly damaging day of testimony in a contempt trial against Secretary Gale Norton, didn't appear too convinced. He questioned why Nessi -- who has since departed the Bureau of Indian Affairs -- resisted oversight of his efforts, despite being urged by more senior officials that he take his time to "make it work."

"Everyone except Mr. Nessi," wanted the job done correctly, Lamberth observed.

But even after Nessi was promoted to higher position within the BIA, becoming the agency's first Chief Information Officer in spring of 2000, the project hasn't moved forward significantly, Thompson testified. The schedule has slipped, critical portions of the system haven't even been developed and additional tests in the field have failed, he said.

Upon learning of the results of a such a test conducted in Billings, Montana, Lamberth became even more alarmed. A new piece of software written by an outside contractor "contaminated" existing trust fund data, he was told.

This significant problem was first reported by Indianz.Com in July. But Lamberth directed Norton's attorneys to "tell me if there is a place where that corrupted data was reported to me."

Thompson said he didn't know if the software bug has been fixed to date, six months after it was documented.

With testimony on the TAAMS project continuing today, Norton's attorneys face a daunting task. Beyond mounting a cross examination of Thompson, they have to explain why the Interior never informed Lamberth about the system's failures before he made his landmark ruling in December 1999.

According to Interior documents and testimony, the disclosure was to be made on September 21, 1999. For an as yet unexplained reason, the notice never occurred.

"You would have thought that . . . the court needed to be told," said Lamberth.

"We certainly felt we needed to let you know," responded Thompson.

The TAAMS project has been managed by six different managers since its inception.

Today on Indianz.Com:
Judge questions role in trust fund 'circus' (12/20)

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

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More on TAAMS:
Court report criticizes trust fund software (8/10)
Court monitor sets sights on software system (8/1)
Latest trust fund system a 'failure' (7/11)