GAO: Full reconciliation impossible
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A full reconciliation of the billions of dollars in assets held by tribes is "impossible," a General Accounting Office official told a Senate panel yesterday.

Due to inadequate records and limitations of computer systems, accounting for the funds cannot be undertaken, said McCoy Williams, the acting director of Finance Management and Assurance. Williams said the Department of Interior's previous effort at "reconciliation" was filled with numerous "shortcomings."

Williams' remarks were given to the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs. The committee held a hearing to consider whether the Interior's mid-1990s reconciliation project, which was conducted by the embattled accounting firm Arthur Andersen, required tribes to file lawsuits to resolve disputes within a certain amount of time.

The prevailing view was that it shouldn't. However, Charles Tillman, chairman of the Osage Nation of Oklahoma and chairman of the Inter-Tribal Monitoring Association, said Congress needs to act to ensure tribes aren't forced to sue and to encourage the Interior to settle.

Tillman suggested changes be made to a bill introduced by Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell (R-Colo.), the committee's vice chair, to provide a "cooling off" period. He said tribes and the Interior should be given until the end of fiscal year 2007 to work on settlements.

Phil Hogen, the new Assistant Solicitor for Indian Affairs, suggested the end of fiscal year 2003 be adopted.

Like the GAO witness, Tillman, who testified before the House on Wednesday about trust fund management and reform, pointed out numerous failures with the Arthur Andersen effort. Some members of Congress and some senior Interior officials weren't satisfied with the project either.

Andersen, however, has been recently retained by the Office of Historical Trust Accounting to perform accounting projects for the Individual Indian Money (IIM) trust. Although in the initial stages, Secretary Gale Norton said on Wednesday the full historical accounting could cost "hundreds of millions" of dollars.

In an interview responding to yesterday's testimony, Dennis Gingold, an attorney representing the IIM plaintiffs in the Cobell class action, said there is little assurance that the Interior can provide an accounting. The same problems of missing records and systems identified with the tribal effort plague the individual trust, he said.

"The amount of destruction makes Enron look like a blip on the radar screen," he said.

The historical office, which is headed by a former Clinton administration official from the State Department, is proposing to spend $16.5 million in fiscal year 2003.

Today on Indianz.Com:
Audit finds more security holes (2/8)
Norton ordered to testify (2/8)
Highlights: Trust Fund Hearing (2/8)

Get Hearing Testimony:
Senate Committee on Indian Affairs (2/7)

Get Campbell's Bill:
A bill to Encourage the Negotiated Settlement of Tribal Claims (S.1857)

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

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