Retaliation charged as BIA official jumps ship
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In what is being called yet another example of employee intimidation, Dom Nessi -- the Bureau of Indian Affairs official whose once-private revelation that trust reform was "imploding" led a federal judge to appoint a court monitor to watch over the government -- has left his top-level job at the troubled agency.

Effective this week, Nessi has resigned as the BIA's Chief Information Officer, leaving to take up a similar position at the National Park Service. News of the departure came as a surprise to a number of Department of Interior officials, including Special Trustee Tom Slonaker, who defended the government's trust reform plan in the wake of Nessi's criticism.

"I wish him well," was all Slonaker could offer yesterday in response to Nessi's exit.

Nessi was the first ever CIO at the BIA, taking on the task a little over a year ago. He was shepherded into the position by former Assistant Secretary Kevin Gover to oversee the BIA's nationwide computer systems, a number of which are directly linked to the trust accounts of an estimated 300,000 American Indians throughout the country.

Nessi, in fact, came into his post as a former manager of the Trust Assets Accounting Management System, or TAAMS, the government's answer to more than one hundred years of financial incompetence. Beset by management and planning problems -- Nessi was one six TAAMS managers in less than three years -- the project has suffered numerous setbacks as Interior officials admit the system has not met expectations.

But while Dennis Gingold, a Washington, DC, attorney who represents the plaintiffs in the Cobell v. Norton lawsuit, has been critical of Nessi's oversight, he had one explanation for the departure. According to Gingold, Nessi is another in a long line of Interior employees who have been the target of retaliation for contradicting the government's view that trust reform is working.

"He was forced out," said Gingold of Nessi. "People [at the Interior] wouldn't talk to him. He was viewed as a pariah."

One day after a federal appeals court ordered the government to provide Indian beneficiaries with an historical accounting of their funds, Nessi leveled a number of harsh charges against his department. He accused the government of trying to fix the system using a plan "built on wishful thinking and rosy projections."

"As a rule, I try not to make dire projections, but I am afraid in this case, I have no choice," wrote Nessi in a February 23 memo to Slonaker. "I believe that trust reform is slowly, but surely imploding at this point in time."

While he said he agreed with some of Nessi's criticism, Slonaker subsequently defended the High-Level Implementation Plan (HLIP) to members of Congress and said the project is indeed on track. A month later, however, US District Judge Royce Lamberth appointed Joseph S. Kieffer III to the case in order to make sure the government is telling the truth.

Attempts to reach Nessi for comment were unsuccessful. He has already begun work at his new job, National Park Service officials confirmed. His office is located in the main Department of Interior building which houses both the BIA and Slonaker's office.

The BIA will begin searching for Nessi's replacement, said a spokesperson, although immediate plans to name an acting CIO were not clear. The CIO reports directly to James McDivitt, the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Management.

Although he has left the BIA, Nessi's departure is not expected to affect a pending court deposition, said Gingold. Nessi has already been interviewed under oath once, admitting that he didn't know who was in charge of the office that issues checks to Indian account holders despite having direct oversight on the matter.

Relevant Links:
Chief Information Officer, BIA -
Office of the Special Trustee -
Trust Management Improvement Project -
Indian Trust: Cobell v. Norton -

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Interior: Trust reform is working (3/22)
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