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Norton signs trust reform update

Last Updated: 5:20 p.m. Eastern Standard Time.

As ordered by a federal judge, Secretary of Interior Gale Norton personally vouched for the accuracy of her department's latest update on trust reform and turned in the document yesterday.

"My signature on this report reflects my personal belief that my personal observations in the report are true and correct and that the accompanying sections of the report are, to the best of my knowledge, accurate," Norton told U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth.

Lamberth last month ordered Norton to submit the report, which she had been refusing to turn in despite being required to do so under a December 21, 1999, court decision. He said she must sign the report rather than pass it off to her subordinate, Special Trustee Tom Slonaker, who had been questioning the completeness and accuracy of the quarterly updates.

This time around, Norton said managers of trust reform projects each met personally with her top aides in Washington, D.C. Each was asked to verify in writing that his or her particular section was correct, she said.

With previous quarterly reports, subproject managers were asked to submit similar assurances but did not do so at a personal meeting.

The report, according to Norton, reflects the state of reform from August 1, 2001, to the end of the year. She notes her consultation with Indian Country over a proposed reorganization of trust asset management within the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the entire department.

Norton also has her own "Observations" section. which has traditionally been the place where Slonaker laid out his overall views. He has testified that government attorneys and other senior officials edited his comments, for whatever reason, and continues to have his own section in this report.

In this section, Norton tries to convince Lamberth that trust reform is a top priority. She points all the way back to her first testimony to Congress, before the Senate Indian Affairs Committee on February 28, 2001.

Norton also tells Lamberth that the blueprint to trust reform, the High Level Implementation Plan (HLIP), is being totally revamped. "The HLIP is now outdated," she writes.

"Many of its identified activities have been designated as being completed," she continues, "however, little material progress is evident."

The observation reflects concerns by Slonaker, court monitor Joseph S. Kieffer III and other critics of the plan. It also reflects an assessment made by EDS Corporation, a management consulting firm brought in to look at trust reform.

The decision to redo the HLIP is also a reversal of prior Congressional testimony by both Slonaker and Assistant Secretary Neal McCaleb. Slonaker in March of last year and McCaleb of last June said the blueprint didn't need to be changed.

Norton proceeds to praise the controversial Ross Swimmer, former BIA Chief during the final three years of the Reagan administration, for his new-found attention to more than 100 years of fiscal mismanagement of not just the Individual Indian Money (IIM) trust but to tribal ones. She says Swimmer, who is heading the transition to a new trust agency, has shown "seasoned judgment, thoughtful analysis, sound counsel and problem solving" since coming on board last November.

Swimmer himself has his own "Observations" section. He reveals that he now has oversight of the Trust Assets and Accounting Management System (TAAMS), probate and BIA data cleanup, three reform projects.

Swimmer says TAAMS, a $40 million system designed to bring trust accounting into the 21st century, has been "deferred."

Regarding the controversial overhaul and the plan to create the Bureau of Indian Trust Assets Management (BITAM), Norton notes that she is "highly confident" that President Bush will approve an increase in funds for Indian trust.

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

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

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