indianz.com your internet resource indianz.com on facebook indianz.com on twitter indianz.com on Google+
ph: 202 630 8439   fax: 202 318 2182
Kill The Tobacco Master Settlement Agreement
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...
Local Links:
Federal Register | Indian Gaming | Jobs & Notices | In The Hoop | Message Board
Latest News:
Native Sun News: Police officers who shot Indian teen get medals (8/28)
Cara Cowan Watts: Laying the groundwork for college scholarship (8/28)
Rudolph Ryser: Indigenous nations need leverage to bring change (8/28)
DOI extends $100M in Cobell buy-back offers on two reservations (8/28)
Cobell buy-backs could return over 38K acres to tribe in Montana (8/28)
Five-year-old Navajo boy sent home from school for his long hair (8/28)
Three charged with murder for death of Mississippi Choctaw man (8/28)
Lummi Nation seeks cooperation after ruling in treaty rights case (8/28)
Artist Gregg Deal takes on Indian mascots for performance piece (8/28)
Sports announcer won't use Washington NFL team's name on air (8/28)
Recruiter from Spokane Tribe's college selected for Peirone Prize (8/28)
California tribes support release of water to benefit salmon runs (8/28)
Southern Ute Tribe invests $2B in big energy production system (8/28)
County hires lobbying firm to oppose federal recognition reforms (8/28)
Tohono O'odham Nation breaks ground for off-reservation casino (8/28)
Cherokee Nation starts construction on casino at Indian allotment (8/28)
Aquinnah Wampanoag Tribe responds to opponents in casino suit (8/28)
Jamul Band continues work on $360M casino after victory in court (8/28)
Editorial: Forest County Potawatomi Tribe ups ante in casino feud (8/28)
Ho-Chunk Nation launches outreach effort amid casino expansion (8/28)
Nebraska Supreme Court hears arguments over gaming initiative (8/28)
Tim Giago: Greedy lawyers and government ruin Cobell settlement (8/27)
Native Sun News: Facility in Montana set to house Indian inmates (8/27)
Gerald Gipp: National strategy needed to reform Indian education (8/27)
9th Circuit won't stop repatriation of Kumeyaay Nation ancestors (8/27)
Bill John Baker: Cherokee Nation puts youth to work for summer (8/27)
Gabe Galanda: Academia won't tackle tribal disenrollment issue (8/27)
Misty Lynn Ellingburg: 'Four Winds' is a literary magazine for us (8/27)
Declination rates for Indian Country crime steady for third year (8/27)
DOJ awards grants to address violence in Bakken energy region (8/27)
Another pipeline spills saltwater on reservation in North Dakota (8/27)
Navajo voters oust incumbent president Ben Shelly in primary (8/27)
Once rival factions of Chukchansi Tribe agree to 2015 election (8/27)
Three brothers on the ballot for Passamaquoddy Tribe election (8/27)
Daily Beast: Border Patrol runs free on Tohono O'odham Nation (8/27)
KTOO: Cook Inlet Tribe turns to video game to represent culture (8/27)
Former IHS information security officer convicted for child porn (8/27)
Crow Reservation murder defendant to make court appearance (8/27)
Texas authorities seek information about skull at Goodwill store (8/27)
Cherokee Nation police find man who disappeared 37 years ago (8/27)
9th Circuit sets oral arguments in Big Lagoon Rancheria dispute (8/27)
Forest County Potawatomi Tribe cuts gaming payment to state (8/27)
State raises concerns about Chumash Tribe's casino expansion (8/27)
Cowlitz Tribe sees setback in infrastructure plan for casino site (8/27)
Native Sun News: Tribes take on Air Force over expansion plan (8/26)
Charles Trimble: Pine Ridge -- the Hollywood of Indian Country (8/26)
Doug George-Kanentiio: Iroquois on both sides for War of 1812 (8/26)
Heather Kendall-Miller: GOP candidate a threat to Native rights (8/26)
Fired Oglala Sioux Tribe police officer indicted for taser incident (8/26)
Sen. Jon Tester to hold session on trafficking in Indian Country (8/26)
Hoopa Valley Tribe takes action due to large number of arsons (8/26)
Non-recognized tribe in Texas hails ruling in eagle feather case (8/26)
Jodi Lee Spotted Bear: Supporting Native language immersion (8/26)
Proposal filed for Wampanoag language public charter school (8/26)
Gila River Indian Community mourns loss of first female leader (8/26)
Jose Barreiro: Indigenous leaders hold historic meeting in Cuba (8/26)
Tribes use reservations to restore rare and endangered species (8/26)
Rival factions unite in takeover attempt within Chukchansi Tribe (8/26)
Darlene Miller seeks to be first female Seneca Nation president (8/26)
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.