Norton criticized on private trust report
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The ranking member of the panel about to hold a hearing over the Department of Interior's trust management criticized Secretary Gale Norton on Monday for seeking to make public a report containing confidential Indian trust data.

In a letter, Rep. Nick Rahall (D-W.Va.) told Norton that he opposed his committee's request for the report. House Resources Committee Chairman Jim Hansen (R-Utah) asked Norton for the document last month as part of a hearing being held tomorrow.

But Norton would be violating her trust obligations by disclosing the report, said Rahall. "Releasing this type of information to the Committee, and consequently, making it public record would in my view violate the trust responsibility the Interior Department has to these individuals," he wrote.

"Certainly, most Americans would not stand for their privacy to be invaded if their bank sought to make every detailed transaction in their checking account public," Rahall continued.

The report in question has been the subject of controversy in recent months. Prepared by Ernst & Young, it contains what the department considers to be a "reconciliation" of the funds of four of the five named plaintiffs in Individual Indian Money (IIM) class action.

As such, it has been of interest to lawmakers considering whether or not to appropriate funds to conduct an historical accounting for 300,000 Indian beneficiaries at the heart of the lawsuit. Congress has already warned the Interior two years in a row that it will not fund an effort that is not likely to satisfy court orders.

Attorneys representing the account holders have opposed making the report public. Some department officials have also voided objections.

Special Trustee Tom Slonaker, the top trust official within the Interior, declined in an interview yesterday to state his views on the debate. He would only say he passed on his "confidential" advice to government lawyers.

In addition to Rahall's panel, the House Interior Appropriations subcommittee has asked for the report. Either way, Rahall said Norton shouldn't release it.

"Properly maintaining a trust responsibility to the individuals in question requires that this report not be placed into the public domain unless they concur," he wrote.

U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth is set to rule on whether the report, which is currently under seal, should be made public.

Get the Letter:
Rahall to Norton (2/4)

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Relevant Links:
Ernst & Young -
House Resources Committee -
Indian Trust, Department of Interior -
Indian Trust: Cobell v. Norton -
Trust Reform, NCAI -

Related Stories:
Norton renews push on private trust data (2/1)
House panel to hold hearings on trust fund (12/5)
Partisan debate emerges over BIA overhaul (11/28)
Rahall: No Thanksgiving in Indian Country (11/21)
Top Democrat calls for hearings on BIA proposal (11/16)
Norton seeking to expose trust fund data (9/28)