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
Health Coverage for American Indians and Alaska Natives
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:
New battle opens as Dakota Access disputes environmental review (1/17)
Judge declines to block publication of Dakota Access Pipeline notice (1/17)
Standing Rock Sioux Tribe responds quickly to Dakota Access threat (1/17)
President Obama names first members of Native youth commission (1/17)
Tim Giago: Discovering a love for food at an Indian boarding school (1/17)
Lakota Country Times: Historic decision for Indian Child Welfare Act (1/17)
Native Sun News Today: Pine Ridge teams fight it out at the buzzer (1/17)
Delphine Red Shirt: Tournament is a testament to our Native youth (1/17)
Native Sun News Today Editorial: News for ranchers in the new year (1/17)
Gyasi Ross: Let's divest from DAPL and support Native owned banks (1/17)
Jeffrey Ostler/Nick Estes: Treaties and the Dakota Access Pipeline (1/17)
Mary Annette Pember: Bad River Band takes stand on oil pipeline (1/17)
Steve Russell: Resolutions for tribal leaders and even the Donald (1/17)
Craig Tribal Association celebrates 'historic' trust land acquisition (1/16)
Mark Trahant: Congress moves forward with repeal of Obamacare (1/16)
Native Sun News Today: Northern Cheyenne banker beats the odds (1/16)
James Giago Davies: The real power to defeat the Wasicu pipeline (1/16)
Tiffany Midge: Hollywood needs to stop stereotyping Native people (1/16)
Peter d'Errico: New book connects Native America with Palestine (1/16)
Alaska tribe makes history with approval of trust land application (1/13)
Mille Lacs Band divests from bank over Dakota Access financing (1/13)
Navajo Code Talkers participate in presidential inaugural parade (1/13)
Native Sun News Today: Uranium expansion by sacred site halted (1/13)
Clara Caufield: Commemorating the outbreak from Fort Robinson (1/13)
Terese Mailhot: Paying tribute to my brother & my protector Guy (1/13)
Steven Newcomb: It's been 130 years of taking indigenous lands (1/13)
Trump's Energy nominee vows to stay away from Dakota Access (1/12)
Native Sun News Today: Legal fight continues over Dakota Access (1/12)
Ivan Star Comes Out: We must speak Lakota to keep it from dying (1/12)
Bad River Band calls for removal of aging pipeline on reservation (1/12)
Bill requires tribal consent for Yucca Mountain nuclear waste site (1/12)
California county approves limits on marijuana near tribal lands (1/12)
North Dakota tribe threatens to walk away from energy tax deal (1/12)
American Bar Association honors prominent Indian law attorney (1/12)
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.