Trust system takes center stage in contempt
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The first project manager of a trust fund accounting system originally pitched as the solution to more than a century of financial mismanagement took the stand in federal court on Thursday and declared the stunted $40 million effort a failure.

Dom Nessi, a former Bureau of Indian Affairs official now with the National Park Service, said he views the Trust Asset and Accounting Management System (TAAMS) as unsuccessful. After spending millions of dollars in contracting, development and other costs, he said the software package has "basically failed."

The revelation comes as little surprise to anyone, as the Department of Interior has halted further work and implementation of TAAMS. Earlier this month, officials told U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth they agreed with a third-party assessment that there were problems which require a second look.

But as a witness testifying on the government's behalf, Nessi hardly seems an adequate defense for Secretary of Interior Gale Norton and Assistant Secretary Neal McCaleb. Of the five charges the pair face, the status of the system, and whether the court was informed adequately, is a large focus of the contempt trial which resumed yesterday.

Lamberth himself questioned whether Norton really viewed trust reform as a "top priority." He said it was "strange" that, after more than two years, the department still has no contract officer to manage TAAMS and no revised document to govern system development.

"Yes, it is strange," agreed Deborah McLeod, who is charge of the system on behalf of her Texas company, Applied Terravision.

In fact, testimony has repeatedly pinned responsibility back on the hands of department officials. Witnesses for 300,000 American Indian trust beneficiaries and the government have pointed to infighting as a key problem hindering trust reform.

McLeod noted the conflicts between the BIA, which was managing TAAMS from project inception, and the Office of the Special Trustee, which is charged with oversight of trust reform. She testified that she first noticed the dispute in the fall of 2000, when she said OST employees in the Office of Trust Fund Management (OTFM) began to clash.

But she said the office, overseen by Donna Erwin, didn't appear to be entirely invested. "OTFM didn't stay involved," she testified. "BIA had more dedication."

Erwin has since taken over TAAMS and a related subproject. She is detailed to work under Ross Swimmer, a former Reagan administration official whose involvement in the reorganization of trust has been opposed by tribes nationwide.

Testimony resumes today with Nessi back on the stand. He left his job as the BIA's chief information officer last July just as computer hackers were breaking into computer systems housing the assets of the Individual Indian Money (IIM) trust.

The TAAMS project has seen six managers since it was started in late 1998.

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

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