indianz.com your internet resource indianz.com on facebook indianz.com on twitter indianz.com on Google+ indianz.com on soundcloud
phone: 202 630 8439
The University of Tulsa College of Law - Master's in Indian Law
Advertise on Indianz.Com
Home > News > Headlines

printer friendly version
OST audits fare no better under Ross Swimmer
Tuesday, June 7, 2005

Months before former Interior Department official Tom Slonaker left his job as head of the Office of Special Trustee, his request to assume more authority over trust reform was rejected by Secretary Gale Norton.

In a strongly worded letter, Norton said Slonaker's handling of the trust fund didn't inspire confidence among Bush administration officials. "Frankly, your performance to date does not justify an expansion of your responsibilities," she wrote on April 17, 2002. "Instead you should be focusing your efforts on strengthening your execution of tasks already assigned to you."

The letter blamed Slonaker for a host of failures in efforts to fix the broken system. Among other problems, Norton said an independent review of OST's handling of the trust fund found discrepancies in tribal and individual Indian trust accounts.

"I expect you to improve your performance in working with the rest of our departmental team to serve trust beneficiaries," she concluded.

On the other hand, Norton expressed a lot of hope in Ross Swimmer, who at the time was running an amorphous entity called the Office of Indian Trust Transition that had been given greater authority over key trust reform projects. "I am confident that Mr. Swimmer is very qualified to undertake these duties, and I don't want to interrupt the progress that is being made," she wrote.

Just a few months later in August, Slonaker was ousted after he told a Congressional committee that an historical accounting of billions of Indian trust fund would be impossible. "I was asked to leave," the former official said in an interview with Indianz.Com at the time.

The White House ended up turning to its confidence man and nominated Swimmer to head the OST over the objections of many tribal leaders who recalled his tenure as head of the Bureau of Indian Affairs during the Reagan administration as a particularly divisive one. After a delayed confirmation, Swimmer was sworn into office on April 17, 2003, a year after the Slonaker letter.

Yet in spite of Norton's glowing words, Swimmer hasn't addressed some of the key concerns raised in the letter. For the past two years under Swimmer's direction, a top accounting firm has found that OST continues to suffer from the same problems for which Slonaker was chastised.

The lack of progress might have gone unnoticed except for the Interior Department's own Inspector General. In his latest semi-annual report to Congress, Earl E. Devaney said KPMG, one of the Big Four accounting firms, issued a "qualified opinion" on OST's handling of the trust fund for 2003 and 2004 -- the years Swimmer has been in control. A qualified opinion means KPMG can't vouch for the accuracy of the financial data or that OST's management doesn't conform with accounting standards.

"According to KPMG's report, inadequacies in certain DOI trust-related systems and processes, disagreements with trustees on account balances, and legal claims against the U.S. government made it impracticable for the auditors to extend auditing procedures to determine the fairness of trust fund balances," Devaney noted. "The report also identified material weaknesses related to OST's reliance on processing trust transactions at BIA and unresolved financial reporting issues from current and prior periods. KPMG also identified a reportable condition pertaining to internal controls over information technology systems."

Devaney notes that problems didn't originate with Swimmer. "This is the ninth consecutive time that the statements have been audited under OIG oversight and have received a qualified opinion," the semi-annual report states.

Then again, they didn't start with Slonaker either. As far back as 1996, when the OST started to operate, accounting firms have found that the trust fund is plagued with inaccuracies.

Among the long-standing issues:
• OST's reported balances of tribal and individual accounts differs from those reported by the Department of Treasury.
• OST has reported negative balances in individual trust accounts.
• OST has failed to distribute millions -- the total was $5.7 million in 2004 -- to individual account holders. Some tribal leaders say the amount contained in these "special deposit accounts" is actually more than what OST has disclosed.
• OST still can't find nearly 49,000 individual Indians who are owed a total of $73.9 million, up from $67 million during Slonaker's tenure.

Despite the repeated problems, Swimmer has not been criticized, at least publicly, by his boss. Instead, Norton has suggested more than once that the trust fund wouldn't be such a problem today had Indian Country gone along with suggestions he made during the Reagan administration.

"Ross Swimmer proposed some changes when he was assistant secretary that, had they been adopted, we would not be in the mess we are in today," Norton told a packed House hearing in February 2002.

Tribal leaders in the audience responded with loud boos and groans and today, many continue to question Swimmer's leadership. Trust reform, according to Charles Colombe, the president of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe of South Dakota, "is not happening." "It's like 'Indian money,'" he said at a conference last October. "Or 'Russian intelligence.'"

Since the start of the Bush administration, OST's budget has grown by more than 50 percent and it has taken over many trust programs previously managed by the BIA, whose budget keeps getting cut by the White House. That has tribal leaders worried not only about the fate of the agency but on the future of trust reform.

"We don't know who the boss is," said Colombe, who has spent decades dealing with trust issues in his state and the Great Plains, where a large number of Indian trust accounts originate. "Is it BIA or is it OST?"

Inspector General Report:
Semiannual Report to Congress (April 2005)

From the Indianz.Com Archive:
Top trust reform official comes under fire (May 21, 2002) | Indian Trust: Conflicts of interest (May 20, 2002) | A super assistant secretary, in all but name (May 3, 2002) | Reagan's Indian chief is back (November 20, 2001)

Relevant Links:
Indian Trust: Cobell v. Norton - http://www.indiantrust.com
Office of Special Trustee - http://www.ost.doi.gov

Related Stories:
Indian preference at stake in consolidation (2/4)
Editorial: Reform DOI, not the trust responsibility (11/26)
Tribes and Bush administration still apart on trust (11/20)
Editorial: Indian Country's Ugly Baby (11/05)
Indian employees to lose preference under Bush plan (11/04)
Self-governance tribes fear impact of reorganization (10/09)
Consolidation plan advances at Interior (9/16)
Ross Swimmer confirmed as special trustee (4/11)
Swimmer still not confirmed as special trustee (4/7)
Senate panel approves Ross Swimmer nomination (03/06)
Swimmer says role in trust reform not conflicted (3/5)
Senate committee to take up Ross Swimmer again (3/4)
Daschle statement in opposition to Swimmer (3/4)
Senate committee to take up Ross Swimmer again (3/4)
Swimmer confirmation delayed (2/27)
Campbell asked to delay vote on Ross Swimmer (2/26)
Senate panel eager to confirm Swimmer as trustee (02/13)
Swimmer can't recall Navajo involvement (02/13)
Swimmer says he will be independent trustee (02/13)
Swimmer spoof rings true for some (2/12)
Swimmer slow to recall Reagan era 'fallout' (01/17)
Swimmer was promised BITAM job (1/16)
Tribes moving to oppose Swimmer nomination (01/06)
White House refusing Indian trust access (08/26)
Probe into Indian trust fund ouster expands (08/05)
White House embroiled in trust fund mess (07/31)
Feathers ruffled in and out of Indian Country (07/31)
Slonaker doesn't want to fire advisers (07/26)
Objections on trust fund ignored (7/16)
Indian beneficiaries being denied millions (4/3)
Swimmer legacy still haunts BIA (02/12)
Swimmer tapped by Bush administration (11/19)

Copyright 2000-2005 Indianz.Com
More headlines...
Stay Connected:
On Facebook

On Twitter

On Google+

On SoundCloud
Local Links:
Federal Register | Indian Gaming | Jobs & Notices | In The Hoop | Message Board
Latest News:
Proposed rule brings LGBT equality to Indian housing programs (5/24)
Chairman of Quapaw Tribe endorses Democrat Hillary Clinton (5/24)
Appropriations bill blocks new federal recognition regulation (5/24)
Native American Children's Safety Act clears final Hill hurdle (5/24)
9th Circuit won't rehear Tohono O'odham Nation gaming case (5/24)
Lakota Country Times: Army promises return of tribal children (5/24)
Native Sun News: New business sprouts up at Wounded Knee (5/24)
Mark Trahant: Tulalip citizen lands role in Democratic platform (5/24)
Brandon Ecoffey: Pine Ridge unites for search of missing men (5/24)
Men who went missing found dead on Pine Ridge Reservation (5/24)
Billy Mills: Flawed poll can't justify use of team's racist mascot (5/24)
Richard King: Mascot poll reflects pervasive anti-Indian racism (5/24)
Marco Alvarez: Voices of indigenous people usually go unheard (5/24)
Indian Health Service facility cited for treatment of 6-month-old (5/24)
Tribes meet to discuss sale of ancestors and property in France (5/24)
Families of missing Native women in Canada still await justice (5/24)
Menominee Nation considers options after losing hemp lawsuit (5/24)
Dental group appears to relent on therapists in Indian Country (5/24)
Alaska Natives welcome removal of 'Eskimo' from federal laws (5/24)
Joba Chamberlain lands on disabled list after joining new team (5/24)
Coquille Tribe awaits environmental review for gaming project (5/24)
Seminole Tribe still going strong despite lack of new casino deal (5/24)
Long wait hints at tie in closely-watched tribal jurisdiction case (5/23)
Another Indian Health Service facility in Great Plains threatened (5/23)
Senate Indian Affairs Committee schedules hearing on wildfires (5/23)
Supreme Court delays review of Seneca Nation land case again (5/23)
Native Sun News: Pine Ridge school hosts meth awareness day (5/23)
Lakota Country Times: Native men still missing after two weeks (5/23)
Tim Giago: Some good old days really were the 'good old days' (5/23)
Doug George-Kanentiio: Jay Silverheels was more than 'Tonto' (5/23)
Delphine Red Shirt: It's our duty to teach the Lakota language (5/23)
Ernestine Chasing Hawk: A vendetta in the death of Anna Mae (5/23)
Native Sun News: Rapid City group aims to address disparities (5/23)
Tara Houska: Mascots hurt Native youth despite results of poll (5/23)
Vincent Schilling: Mascot poll doesn't reflect true Indian voices (5/23)
Wenona Wolf: Native people are invisible in our own homeland (5/23)
Roger Birdbear: Obamacare can help address shortfalls at IHS (5/23)
Harold Monteau: Lessons from Canada in Native law and policy (5/23)
Steven Newcomb: Church edicts lead to centuries of domination (5/23)
Robert Jumper: Gaming leads Eastern Cherokees to bright future (5/23)
Naomi Schaefer Riley: Hold tribal leaders accountable for schools (5/23)
Benjamin Madley: Acknowledge the genocide of California tribes (5/23)
Jasmine Heiss: Leonard Peltier's fate lies with President Obama (5/23)
Santa Fe Indian School preparing for First Lady Michelle Obama (5/23)
All charges dropped for murder of Cheyenne man in New Mexico (5/23)
Donald Trump claims 'Jack Abrahamoff scandal' proves him right (5/23)
Kickapoo Tribe added to lawsuit over deadly casino bus accident (5/23)
Settlement opens door to tribal casino at popular Oklahoma lake (5/23)
Lakota Country Times: Pine Ridge youth learn about martial arts (5/20)
Native Sun News: Oglala Sioux Tribe halts referendum on alcohol (5/20)
Clara Caufield: Off to a new adventure in the Montana mountains (5/20)
Washington Post conducts poll on Native views of racist mascot (5/20)
Warm Springs Tribes see marijuana as means to boost economy (5/20)
more headlines...

Home | Arts & Entertainment | Business | Canada | Cobell Lawsuit | Education | Environment | Federal Recognition | Federal Register | Forum | Health | Humor | Indian Gaming | Indian Trust | Jack Abramoff Scandal | Jobs & Notices | Law | National | News | Opinion | Politics | Sports | Technology | World

Indianz.Com Terms of Service | Indianz.Com Privacy Policy
About Indianz.Com | Advertise on Indianz.Com

Indianz.Com is a product of Noble Savage Media, LLC and Ho-Chunk, Inc.