FROM THE ARCHIVE
Court moves BIA intimidation case forward
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FRIDAY, OCTOBER 4, 2002

The federal judge overseeing the Indian trust debacle has cleared the way to probe the contemptuous behavior of Bureau of Indian Affairs officials who sent an employee home after she questioned efforts to fix the broken system.

More than a year ago, the Bush administration sought to delay depositions of several current and former Washington, D.C., bureaucrats. Included are former Assistant Secretary Kevin Gover, his former computer aide Dom Nessi, former Indian affairs commissioner Hilda Manuel and senior BIA managers.

But in a court order signed Monday, U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth rejected the government's request. He said the matter can go forward because he has scheduled a third contempt trial against the Department of Interior.

The trial will address the saga of Mona Infield, a computer specialist from Albuquerque, New Mexico. In spring of 2000, she disputed claims that the Trust Asset and Accounting Management System (TAAMS), a project overseen by Nessi and supported by Gover, was working.

She also provided information which cast doubt on a move of the Office of Information Resources Management (OIRM), the BIA's computer network center that processes checks to Indian beneficiaries and tribes. Gover authorized the transfer from Albuquerque to suburban Washington, D.C., under the guises of improving security violations that left Indian money open to Internet hackers.

After sharing her views, Infield was "exiled" to home duty, where she continues to draw an $80,000 yearly salary. According to court documents, Manuel -- described as the BIA's "Iron Fist" for her stringent management practices -- directed BIA subordinates to act.

But Infield was vindicated by several scathing court reports that confirmed the failures of TAAMS and the lack of information technology (IT) security. Also, Lamberth on September 17 held Secretary of Interior Gale Norton and Indian affairs aide in contempt for not providing an accurate status of trust reform.

"The 300,000 individual Indian beneficiaries deserve a better trustee-delegate than the Secretary of Interior," he wrote.

Infield's trial is proceeding on the grounds that the Interior violated a court order that prohibits retaliation against employees who provide information about the trust fund. Special Master Alan Balaran has already concluded there is "sufficient evidence" to support the case.

Gover left his government post in January 2001 to join the Washington, D.C., law firm of Steptoe & Johnson. Manuel also worked at the firm up until her recent departure.

Nessi managed the TAAMS project from its inception and was eventually promoted by Gover to oversee all IT issues at the BIA. But after he questioned the status of reform, he went onto another government job in July 2001.

Deborah Maddox was the senior manager with direct oversight of OIRM throughout the debacle. According to a BIA source, she has been reassigned but this could not be confirmed.

Infield's trial is scheduled for this December. Attempts by Secretary Gale Norton to settle the issue have not succeeded.

Relevant Documents:
Order on Court Depositions (9/30)

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

Related Stories:
Norton's contempt worries not over (9/19)
Government punished for stonewalling on trust fund (4/01)
Norton accused of continued harassment (6/12)
Trust funds still causing trouble (4/11)
Norton targeted for contempt in retaliation incident (3/15)
Interior contempt trial recommended (2/22)
Ex-employee says harassment started at top (2/15)
Intimidation alleged at Interior (2/14)

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