Top trust official lacks 'confidence' in reform
Facebook Twitter Email

The Department of Interior's top trust official testified on Tuesday that he lacked "confidence" in the government's plan to fix more than a century of mismanagement of Indian trust funds.

Casting doubt on whether the department can ever truly reform the broken system, and reversing a stance he took nearly a year ago before Congress, Special Trustee for American Indians Tom Slonaker said he didn't think the government was "on the right track." The blueprint to reform, known as the High Level Implementation Plan (HLIP), might need to be "overhauled" before real progress can be made, he told a a federal judge.

"I don't have a great deal of confidence in the subprojects and trust reform generally as I sit here right now," said Slonaker.

Confirming findings in reports by a court monitor and testimony by his top aide, Slonaker's remarks came on the 13th day of the contempt trial against Secretary Gale Norton and Assistant Secretary Neal McCaleb. Among the five charges they face are whether U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth has been given an accurate status of attempts to correct years of financial mismanagement of the Individual Indian Money (IIM) trust.

According to Slonaker, the quarterly reports that have been submitted to Lamberth have been anything but truthful. Since taking the top position in July 2000 after being nominated by former President Bill Clinton, he testified of his serious concerns about the status updates, which are to be presented every quarter.

When his Office of the Special Trustee for American Indians assumed responsibility for the documents, Slonaker said he had attempted to present a "fairer view" of reform. But former Secretary Bruce Babbitt and current Secretary Gale Norton -- along with their aides -- revised, edited and limited his more candid disclosures, he testified.

"So they went around you?" asked Lamberth.

"You could say that," replied Slonaker.

Slonaker's dispute with Norton and top aides over the completeness and accuracy of the reports culminated this past fall in his refusal to certify the 7th quarterly report, he recalled. His top aide, Tommy Thompson, testified on his own behalf that he also refused to verify the document.

The followup to that report has been held back by Norton but Lamberth has ordered her to turn it in, and personally sign it, next week.

With Norton continuing to push the creation of a new trust assets agency on Indian Country, Slonaker's testimony about the viability of the HLIP presents serious questions. In March 2000, he told a House oversight committee that the blueprint was "pretty good" and didn't need to be "overhauled."

But the creation of the Bureau of Indian Trust Assets Management (BITAM), which would handle more than $3 billion in assets on 54 million acres of land owned by tribes and individual Indians, depends largely on following the HLIP. EDS Corporation, a management consulting firm hired by Norton, tomorrow will provide a roadmap based on the subjproects identified in the blueprint.

The trial resumes today with Slonaker expected again to take the stand. Norton's attorneys still need to cross-examine him before the next witness is called.

Future witnesses include:
  • Daryl White, the Chief Information Officer of the Interior
  • John Snyder, an employee of White
  • Bruce Babbitt, former Secretary of Interior
  • Anne Shields, former Chief of Staff to Babbitt
  • David Shuey, a Department of Justice attorney
  • Ed Cohen, former Interior Solicitor

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

Related Stories:
Trial resumes with trust testimony (1/7)
Contempt trial resumes in federal court (1/4)
Cobell: Justice for Indian Country (12/24)
Contempt trial breaking for Christmas (12/21)
IIM checks being delayed at Interior (12/21)
Interior can't find proof of corruption (12/21)
Tribal leaders blast Norton proposal (12/21)
Reports crucial to Norton contempt (12/21)
TAAMS failure traced to first manager (12/20)
TAAMS: The Titanic Failure (12/20)
Judge questions role in trust fund 'circus' (12/20)
Norton drops objections to court monitor (12/20)
TAAMS: The Titanic Failure (12/20)
Judge questions role in trust fund 'circus' (12/20)
TAAMS failure traced to promoted manager (12/20)
Ruling on court monitor put off (12/20)
Norton ordered to submit trust fund report (12/18)
Judge rebuffs Norton challenge (12/17)
Week two of trial continues today (12/17)
History of neglect drives trust case (12/17)
Judge eager for Norton testimony (12/13)
Editorial: Bad faith, wasted dollars (12/13)
Confusion, conflict detailed at Interior (12/12)
Exclusive: Trust reform assessment (12/12)
Lamberth pokes fun at government (12/12)
EDS trust reform report online (12/12)
Coverage of Contempt Trial, Day 2 (12/12)
Contempt trial continues (12/11)
Contested reports focus of contempt trial (12/11)
The Trial: Witnesses to Contempt (12/11)
Coverage of Contempt Trial, Day 1 (12/11)
Norton contempt trial opens (12/10)
Norton attacks court monitor (12/10)
Norton set for contempt trial (12/10)