Under watch of Swimmer TAAMS halted
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Against the wishes of the company developing a costly and controversial computer system that has been constantly criticized, the Department of Interior has halted work on a $40 million trust reform project and may get rid of the floundering software package altogether.

Citing numerous problems, including computer security vulnerabilities, the department is putting off further development of the Trust Assets and Accounting Management System (TAAMS) and is re-evaluating whether the project can meet its needs. Ross Swimmer, who headed the Bureau of Indian Affairs during the last three years of the Reagan administration and was given control over TAAMS since being hired by Secretary Norton last November, informed a federal judge of the decision in a status update this week.

"[F]urther development and deployment of the ArtesiaLand System known as TAAMS has been deferred until we are satisfied that it is the most appropriate way to automate . . . required trust functions," wrote Swimmer.

Special Trustee Tom Slonaker, the highest-ranking trust official within the department, agreed with the decision, according to his own comments in the eighth quarterly report. He and his staff had been battling with the BIA over the project until Norton reassigned it to Slonaker's office, also in November.

Pitched to Indian Country and a federal judge as the solution to outdated and disparate accounting practices, development of TAAMS began during the Clinton administration in late 1998. But the system has been seen numerous setbacks.

Among the most major has been a total shift in the way the system has been developed. Department officials chose to base TAAMS off the ArtesiaLand System, a commercial product of Applied Terravision (ATS), a Texas firm, and intended only to modify it.

Over time, however, the BIA and ATS made so many changes -- all willingly approved by an Interior oversight board -- that the system is now considered a custom project. Still, top officials -- including Slonaker and Assistant Secretary Neal McCaleb -- were convinced TAAMS could be brought on track and deployed on schedule.

With McCaleb no longer in charge and with Slonaker reversing his position, whether any system will be ready by the target date of 2003 is now in serious doubt. But ATS isn't of the same mind and during Norton's contempt trial this week, a company representative, who testified on behalf of the government, defended the system.

Nevertheless, Deborah McCloud, who has been the TAAMS project manager since the summer of 1999, testified that the only part of the system that works, to some extent, is a module known as land title, which tracks the ownership of trust land. Land title happens to be the custom part of ArtesiaLand -- the package's other trust functions have been modified so much that none are complete, she admitted.

McCloud also testified that she did not wholeheartedly support the recommendations of EDS Corporation, a management consulting firm brought in last summer to assess trust reform, regarding TAAMS. While she agreed with EDS's views on land title, she opposed the Interior looking at other packages to replace her company's product -- which is exactly what Swimmer and others are now doing.

Further, the Interior will not deploy the land title module beyond a pilot site in Billings, Montana, noted Slonaker. "The Department, however, has decided not to implement the title portion in additional locations pending further re-planning of the overall asset management systems projects," he wrote.

McCloud is expected to return to the contempt trial January 31. She is still undergoing cross-examination by an attorney representing 300,000 Individual Indian Money (IIM) beneficiaries whose assets have never been accounted by the Interior.

Today on Indianz.Com:
Norton scraps trust reform blueprint (1/18)

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

Related Stories:
Witness testifies against software corruption (1/15)
Dom Nessi expected as Norton witness (1/14)
TAAMS: The Titanic Failure (12/20)
TAAMS failure traced to promoted manager (12/20)
Norton ordered to submit trust fund report (12/18)

More on TAAMS:
Court report criticizes trust fund software (8/10)
Court monitor sets sights on software system (8/1)
Retaliation charged as BIA official jumps ship (7/25)
Latest trust fund system a 'failure' (7/11)
Interior holding back security reports (6/29)
Action threatened against Interior (6/25)
Memo: Trust reform project needs extra attention (4/11)
BIA official: Organization was in 'disarray' (4/5)
Interior: Trust reform is working (3/22)
'Emergency' trust fund meeting requested (3/21)
BIA Memo: Trust reform out of control (3/16)