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Latest trust fund order sparks reaction from Congress
Monday, October 24, 2005

The battle over the Indian trust fund heated up on Friday as a federal appeals court blocked the latest Internet shutdown order and a key Congressman said the case has gotten out of control.

A day after U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth ordered the Interior Department to protect its Indian trust fund systems from hackers, a higher court stopped the move. The D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, acting on an emergency request by the Bush administration, issued an administrative stay pending further consideration.

The per curiam order issued by a panel of three judges indicated the administration would submit a full motion to block the order by Thursday of this week.

Meanwhile, Rep. Richard Pombo (R-California), the influential chairman of the House Resources Committee, announced he would join efforts to settle the case. He said the shutdown order "demonstrates the need to take this matter out of this court's hands, where it has soured for 9 years" and resolve the dispute.

"In some respects, the filing of the lawsuit was necessary to get the government's attention, and fix a problem that had been brewing for decades," Pombo said of a case that began in 1996. "Unfortunately, it has taken on a life of its own, with a potential to cost billions of dollars on attorneys and accountants and very little for the Indians the lawsuit was supposed to benefit."

Pombo called on Congress to step in and ensure individual Indians receive their "due." He said the lawsuit has shown that the federal government cannot provide an accurate accounting of billions of oil, gas, timber and other royalties that have been generated on Indian lands since 1887.

In hopes of ending the matter, Sen. John McCain (R-Arizona) and Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-North Dakota), the chairman and vice chairman respectively, of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee, have introduced legislation to settle the case. Pombo said he would work with the Senate on drafting a package.

McCain and Dorgan held a hearing on the bill in July but ran into a number of objections from Elouise Cobell, the lead plaintiff in the lawsuit, and other prominent tribal leaders. They said the bill ignored the principles they drafted -- at the request of the Senate and House -- and gave too much control to the Interior and Treasury departments, who have been held in breach of trust.

McCain and Dorgan repeatedly stressed the language was merely a starting point. But they outright rejected a proposed settlement of $27.5 billion for the Cobell case, calling the amount too high.

The Bush administration also opposed the proposal, saying there is no proof that Indian funds have been mismanaged over the last century. Interior officials indicated they objected to other provisions of the bill as well.

Since then, there has been little movement in Congress on the settlement package. Lamberth's decision to order a disconnect of Indian trust systems for the fourth time, however, prompted a new round of lobbying by the Bush administration, which has repeatedly turned to lawmakers in hopes of overturning their court losses.

Even though the Indian trust systems have not been connected to the public Internet for nearly four years, the Interior Department says the shutdown will impede services to Indian and tribal beneficiaries. Officials last week said they would have trouble processing oil, gas and other payments.

But Cobell said a recent 59-day trial proved that Interior hasn't improved its computer network despite spending more than $100 million. When will this disgraceful behavior end and when will Secretary [Gale] Norton begin to discharge her fiduciary responsibilities that she owes to Indian people?" Cobell said. "We will fight her efforts to allow our trust records and assets to continue to be manipulated, corrupted, stolen, and destroyed because of Interiorís poor computer security."

Internet Shutdown Decision:
Decision: Cobell v. Norton (October 20, 2005)

Senate Documents:
John McCain Statement | Byron Dorgan Statement | Full Text of Bill as Introduced | S.1439

Relevant Documents:
Trust Reform and Cobell Settlement Workgroup Principles for Legislation (June 2005)

Relevant Links:
Indian Trust: Cobell v. Norton - http://www.indiantrust.com
Cobell v. Norton, Department of Justice - http://www.usdoj.gov/civil/cases/cobell/index.htm
National Congress of American Indians - http://www.ncai.org
Intertribal Trust Fund Monitoring Association - http://www.itmatrustfunds.org

Related Stories:
Interior ordered to protect Indian trust fund systems(10/21)
Lamberth issues new IT shutdown injunction (10/20)
Interior warned of computer security risks again (09/30)
Bush calls for new judge in Cobell v. Norton case (08/16)
BLM CIO threatened with demotion in Cobell case (08/02)
Appeals court stays Lamberth order on notices (7/29)
DOI mum on settlement figure for Cobell v. Norton (7/27)
Indian leaders to pledge support on trust reform (7/26)
Listening Lounge: Senate hearing on Cobell (7/26)
Cobell calls trust reform bill a win for Interior (7/22)
McCain and Dorgan introduce trust reform legislation (7/22)
Opinion: Keep open mind on Cobell settlement (7/19)
McCain plans hearing on Cobell settlement, reform (7/14)
Judge blasts Interior on handling of trust (7/13)
Elouise Cobell: Principles put trust back into trust fund (07/07)
Cobell and Cason to appear on C-SPAN program (7/6)
Cobell calls for settlement of trust fund lawsuit (7/5)
Editorial: Resolution of trust fund debacle needed (7/5)
Editorial: Abramoff scandal can't compare to trust (6/30)
Opinion: Downfall of Indians traced to Army, BIA (6/28)
Pombo supports settlement of Cobell trust fund case (6/27)
Harjo: Tribes lobby to fleece their own people (6/24)
Editorial: Congress should settle trust fund (6/24)
Editorial: Trust fund a 'national embarassment' (6/22)
Indian Country united on trust reform solutions (6/21)
Trust workgroup to outline Cobell settlement goals (6/17)
Echohawk optimistic on settlement of Cobell case (06/03)
Final trust reform meeting held in North Dakota (6/3)
UTTC hosts meeting on trust reform legislation (6/1)
House panel acts to restore Bush budget cuts (05/05)
NCAI and ITMA hold second trust reform meeting (05/04)
Bush administration won't give up fight on Cobell (03/18)
McCain weighs GAO probe of Indian trust debacle (03/10)
McCain lays out Indian agenda for 109th Congress (3/7)
Norton won't testify on trust fund retaliation (2/28)
Bush official won't accept claims of trust mismanagement (02/17)
Appeals court won't hold back Lamberth on trust reform (12/13)
Appeals court supports Lamberth's authority on IT (12/06)
Lamberth critical of Norton's 'bad faith' on trust fund (10/25)
Interior denies attempt to halt trust fund payments (10/05)
Bush administration challenges trust fund ruling (09/16)
Appeals court takes on Cobell trust fund case (9/15)
Lamberth exchanges harsh words with Cobell critic (08/02)
Bush administration calls for end to Cobell case (04/09)
Cobell trust fund suit mediators announced (4/6)
DOI's Internet connection shut down for third time (03/16)
Lamberth defends special master against attack (03/16)
Anderson praises Cobell suit in NCAI speech (2/25)
Tribes still frustrated on trust reform (11/20)
Bush officials blasted by tribal leaders (11/19)
Cobell plaintiffs disputing trust fund rider (11/17)
Daschle criticizes 'shameful' rider in DOI budget bill (11/04)
Norton welcomes time-out in Cobell trust fund case (11/4)
Bush official balks at large settlement for Cobell (7/10)

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