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A month later, BIA reorganization details emerge
MONDAY, JANUARY 13, 2003

Bush administration officials approved the reorganization of Indian affairs within the Department of Interior in late November, soon after Neal McCaleb promised to share whatever he knew with tribes, according to documents submitted in federal court.

The changes to the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) and the Office of Special Trustee (OST) weren't made public until December 4. But internal memoranda show that McCaleb, who resigned as assistant secretary for Indian affairs last month, and acting Special Trustee Donna Erwin approved them on November 25, right before the Thanksgiving holiday.

The reorganization, however, couldn't be made final until Secretary Gale Norton accepted it. She did so on December 3 and the following day, a small group of tribal leaders was invited to see the results of what McCaleb and other officials characterized as last-minute work.

"It is not half-baked," McCaleb said later that month at a meeting with tribal leaders, "but it lacks refinement."

The proposal, included as part of a reform plan submitted to a federal judge last week, was heavily anticipated by tribal leaders who have since registered their opposition. They said it lacks standards and creates more levels of bureaucracy instead of improving services at the reservation level.

But the way it was unveiled has been hotly debated as well. Tex Hall, president of the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI) said the administration has not been forthcoming about its deliberations as is required of a trustee.

"We can't get the truth out of DOI anymore," he said in an interview.

Some members of Congress, including former Senate leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) and Rep. Frank Pallone (D-N.J.) also questioned the latest developments. U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth, who is overseeing litigation affecting the trust, last week accepted a critical letter authored by Pallone, a member of the Congressional Native American Caucus, that accused Secretary of Interior Gale Norton of providing misleading information about her plans.

"It is critical that the information presented by the Department of Interior in this case accurately represents the actions of Congress and the approval of the tribal governments," he wrote on January 2. "However, Secretary Norton's intentions seem to be to proceed with the case and misrepresent her level of support in order to circumvent real Congressional approval."

Norton's earlier efforts to reorganize were also greeted with opposition. With no prior consultation, she announced the creation of a new trust agency in November 2001. Court documents she later submitted depicted BITAM as the result of months of work among department officials yet none of it was shared with tribes or key members of Congress.

Bush officials said they learned from that experience and would be more responsive to Indian Country. "When we have something, we'll share it," McCaleb said at NCAI's annual session on November 11 with regard to the government's anticipated actions.

With regard to the current reorganization, tribes felt they were blind-sided by the department's intent to use $5 million in funds to implement it. Most weren't aware of the reprogramming request, made to Congress on December 4, until Deputy Secretary J. Steven Griles released copies of the letter on December 17.

A day later, Senate appropriators approved the money. Norton said she received House approval on December 10.

Relevant Documents:
DOI Memoranda (Submitted January 6, 2003)

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
Indian Trust, Department of Interior - http://www.doi.gov/indiantrust
Trust Reform, NCAI - http://www.ncai.org/main/pages/
issues/other_issues/trust_reform.asp

Related Stories:
Additional DOI documents filed on Jan. 6 (1/10)
Treasury won't file trust reform plan (1/9)
Standards guide reform effort (1/8)
What happened to all the land? (1/8)
Congressman accuses Norton of 'stealth' moves (1/8)
Sioux chairman calls BIA talks a 'sham' (1/8)
Cobell trust reform plans filed (1/7)
Norton to fight IIM accounting (1/7)
DOI complains about consultation (1/7)
Court official demands documents (1/7)
Griles: No evidence of trust fund loss (1/7)
Swimmer picked as Indian trustee (1/6)
Norton won't account for assets (1/6)
McCaleb learned about trust 'on the job' (12/23)
Lamberth slams claimed accounting (12/23)
Edwards: Slonaker changed mind on accounts (12/23)
McCaleb challenges trust accounting claims (12/19)
Deadline approaches on plans (12/19)
Tribes opposing BIA proposal (12/18)
'This is not son of BITAM' (12/17)
Tribes debate future of talks (12/17)

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