indianz.com your internet resource indianz.com on facebook indianz.com on twitter indianz.com on Google+
ph: 202 630 8439
Indian Law Online Master Degree
Advertise on Indianz.Com
Home > News > Headlines

printer friendly version
Johnson seeks investigation into OST expansion
Friday, May 7, 2004

Sen. Tim Johnson (D-South Dakota) is asking for a far-reaching investigation into the Office of Special Trustee, citing concerns over the expansion of an agency originally designed to oversee, but not implement, trust reform.

In a letter to the General Accounting Office, the investigative arm of Congress, Johnson said he wanted a probe into "the entire management and administrative system" of OST, including the agency's spending practices. "I am concerned about OST's financial transactions, its regulatory compliance, its internal controls and the accuracy of OST's program allocation financial reporting," he wrote on Monday.

Johnson, a member of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee, said that OST has not addressed numerous deficiencies concerning the management of billions of dollars of Indian trust funds. Several reports, including those from the GAO and independent accounting firms, show discrepancies in the amounts owed to tribal and individual Indian beneficiaries. One audit shows that OST is holding back at least $121 million, up from $62 million previously reported, from individual Indians.

The letter challenges OST's unparalleled expansion under the Bush administration. During the past two years, the agency's budget has increased by 54 percent and 44 percent even as funds for reservation-level programs at the Bureau of Indian Affairs are being cut.

Johnson said he wants justification for the increases. In fiscal year 2005, OST would see a $322 million budget with nearly 680 full-time employees.

The appropriations are of particular concern for Johnson, who sits on the Senate Appropriations Committee. According to Johnson, OST continues to ask for more money despite having millions in "carryover" funds. His letter cited carryovers of $48 million, $25 million and $6 million in the past three years.

"There are too many year end, questionable financial obligations with cancellations in the next fiscal year that gives rise to suspicious activity of impropriety," he wrote.

Johnson also questioned whether senior OST managers are entitled to "hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash awards and retention bonuses for questionable performance in addition to their salary." He said Donna Erwin, the second-in-command at OST, has received $150,000 in cash awards and bonuses over the years.

Tex Hall, president of the National Congress of American Indians, said tribes support an investigation into OST. "I think there's been a lot of concern in Indian Country about a number of issues with OST and one is the budgeting," he said yesterday. "We need to know where the monies are coming from to fund their positions."

"We feel they've been taken from BIA budgets," he added. "We never get a clear answer on that."

Hall was aware that cash bonuses are being given to OST employees and said that tribes raised the issue in recent meetings with Special Trustee Ross Swimmer. But he was shocked to learn that the bonuses might run in the hundreds of thousands.

"I can't imagine that," he said. "All the people that can't get an accounting for their Individual Indian Money account check, and all the proposed cuts in education, Indian child welfare ... and in social services, all these cuts for the poorest of the poor but then to get cash awards and bonuses in excess of that -- that to me is clearly a waste of money."

Congress created OST in 1994 to provide oversight of the BIA's trust management duties. The agency stumbled in its first few years of existence under the Clinton administration -- former Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt initially refused to fund the office and the first Special Trustee resigned in a dispute with Babbitt.

But under the Bush administration, the agency has seen unprecedented growth and has slowly taken over programs formerly managed by BIA, including cash management, appraisals, probate and accounting. Tribal leaders and some member of Congress say this expansion violates the intent of Congress in creating the office.

OST continues to expand its reach into Indian Country in what top officials once described as a "grow, not shrink" mission. The agency is hiring dozens of trust officers to serve at BIA agencies. Tribal leaders in South Dakota and other Great Plains states -- home to the second-largest number of IIM accounts and the second-largest land base -- passed a resolution recently saying they would refuse to allow a trust officer onto their reservations.

Get the Letter:
Johnson Request for OST Investigation (May 3, 2004)

Relevant Links:
Office of Special Trustee - http://www.ost.doi.gov

Related Stories:
Tribal leaders hope to counteract Bush budget cuts (04/13)
Swimmer to retain control of Indian appraisals (04/06)
Tribal leaders denounce BIA budget plans as reckless (03/24)
Bush budget slashes Indian education by $79M (03/23)
Senate panel hears conflicting views of reorganization (03/11)
Anderson praises Cobell suit in NCAI speech (2/25)
Senate panel shares criticism of Bush budget (02/12)
BIA budget staying the same under Bush request (2/3)
Funding levels flat in new Interior budget (02/03)

Copyright 2000-2004 Indianz.Com
More headlines...
Stay Connected:

Local Links:
Federal Register | Indian Gaming | Jobs & Notices | In The Hoop | Message Board
Latest News:
Native Sun News: Pine Ridge's David Michaud wins fighting match (12/19)
Mark Trahant: Old school budgets a better deal for Indian Country (12/19)
Ruth Hopkins: Boycott a repeat offender of cultural appropriation (12/19)
8th Circuit sides with Omaha Tribe in reservation boundary case (12/19)
BIA finalizes rule to add Alaska tribes to land-into-trust process (12/19)
Obama signs measure to extend VAWA tribal provision to Alaska (12/19)
Wyandotte Nation set to break ground on $1.4M cultural center (12/19)
Man from Standing Rock Sioux Tribe charged for cousin's murder (12/19)
Opponents of Cowlitz Tribe plan appeal of gaming land decision (12/19)
Menominee Nation off-reservation casino supporters hold rally (12/19)
Bear River Band hires tribal member as casino general manager (12/19)
Column: Poarch Creek gaming is only thing working in Alabama (12/19)
Column: Wait for decision on Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe casino (12/19)
Native Sun News: Oglala Sioux Tribe inaugurates new leadership (12/18)
Walt Lamar: Cooperation helps address crime in Indian Country (12/18)
Brandon Ecoffey: Tournament shows hope of the Lakota people (12/18)
Editorial: Showing caution for marijuana sales in Indian Country (12/18)
Editorial: New York governor makes right call to outlaw fracking (12/18)
Fines for foes of Tohono O'odham Nation off-reservation casino (12/18)
New York passes over tribes for first commercial casino licenses (12/18)
Factions of Cayuga Nation in court over Class II gaming facility (12/18)
Deadline extended for commercial casino eyed by Quapaw Tribe (12/18)
Opinion: Another casino isn't answer to Connecticut's problems (12/18)
Native Sun News: Youth take on lead role in Dakota memorial ride (12/17)
Mark Trahant: NCAI launches new campaign against racist mascot (12/17)
Norm DeWeaver: Job market is a disaster zone in Indian Country (12/17)
Amanda Blackhorse: Fake chiefs and fake headdresses must go (12/17)
DOI makes $9M in buy-back offers on Coeur d'Alene Reservation (12/17)
Shoshone-Bannock Tribes see success with two bills in Congress (12/17)
Boyd Cothran: Torture justified by treatment of Indian prisoners (12/17)
Rep. Gosar faces criticism over bill that benefits Hualapai Tribe (12/17)
Navajo Nation's highest court dismisses challenge to candidate (12/17)
Column: Tribal voices often minimized in environmental debate (12/17)
Column: Chief Cliff still an undeniably spiritual place in Montana (12/17)
Native activists in Brazil protest land bill with bows and arrows (12/17)
Shakopee Tribe funds Eastern Shoshone Tribe casino expansion (12/17)
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.