indianz.com your internet resource indianz.com on facebook indianz.com on twitter indianz.com on Google+
ph: 202 630 8439
Fredericks Peebles & Morgan LLP
Advertise on Indianz.Com
Home > News > Headlines

Printer friendly version
Bunker mentality evident in trust reform fight
TUESDAY, APRIL 22, 2003

Does Donna have a problem with me -- notes from a conversation about Donna Erwin, top trust reform official, January 23, 2002.

Even after the two Department of Interior agencies most responsible for the administration of the Indian trust promised to work together, infighting among top officials and key players continued, new court documents show.

Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) employees in charge of a $40 million computer system now deemed a failure continued to battle higher-ups in the Office of Special Trustee (OST) up until the very end, according to the documents. Along with a contractor, an Indian-owned company based in Maryland, the employees challenged OST's reliance on a consulting firm with little experience in Indian affairs but with a lot of fancy charts and tables.

"We take exception to several of these comments, but do not know if they are taken out of context or taken from a person who has the appropriate responsibility to make the judgment cited," the BIA opponents said in one response to criticism of their work, just months before the project was stripped from them and handed to Donna Erwin, a high-ranking OST official.

But it wasn't just OST that thought the world of Electronic Data Systems (EDS). Secretary of Interior Gale Norton, her deputy J. Steve Griles and even her former Indian affairs aide Neal McCaleb came to embrace many of EDS's controversial recommendations -- including one to split the BIA in two.

The adoption of BITAM as a solution to a century of trust fund mismanagement ultimately led to ten months of meetings whose ultimate success may be the frequent-flier miles attendees racked up, tribal leaders have half-jokingly said. The talks concluded with Neal McCaleb's resignation, and his swipe at the litigation that left him in near tears at several points in his short federal career.

Caught in the middle, according to a court investigator assigned to help sort out the mess, are the 300,000-plus Indian beneficiaries who don't seem to be represented by much at the Department of Interior these days.

"For EDS, the motive was to persuade Interior to buy more EDS," Alan Balaran wrote in a report released yesterday. "For Interior, it was to avoid liability at all costs. In the view of the Special Master, neither organization acted in the best interest of the public or the court.

"They certainly were not acting in the best interest of the beneficiaries."

Confronted with the failure of trust reform, many tribal leaders point fingers at OST. They accused the first special trustee, Paul Homan, of trying to make changes without their input and of pushing a "one-size-fits-all" approach on hundreds of individual tribes. Many didn't care for his replacement, Tom Slonaker, either.

BIA officials and DOI attorneys were also convinced OST was the problem. Former assistant secretary Kevin Gover, who was held in contempt for failing to produce trust fund records, said OST tried to have its cake and eat it too.

"The problem was that OST did have authority and they were operating programs. And then they claimed to be an independent observer," he said recently. "Needless to say, BIA did not find them to be an objective interpreter of events, or even an objective reporter of events."

At the height of the battle, OST's chief complaint was that BIA lacked project management skills. Little by little, OST increased oversight of projects like the Trust Asset and Accounting Management System (TAAMS), sometimes at the prodding of DOI attorneys. When the intended results weren't achieved, Tommy Thompson, a former OST deputy who retired earlier this year, cut off BIA's project money.

Publicly, it wasn't like that. Slonaker and McCaleb presented a united front and promised to work together. They agreed on BITAM. They praised Norton for taking "bold steps" to fix the system. Then they both left the Interior amid massive upheaval.

Even though BITAM was killed -- thus keeping BIA intact, to the satisfaction of tribal leaders -- OST is emerging with the spoils. The agency will get a significant boost in funding, resources and new hires. Norton also thinks the world of Erwin and Ross Swimmer, the new special trustee.

These days, BIA concerns are hardly about OST. Officials and employees in the field have a common refrain: No one tells us anything. Seeking details about the pending reorganization of both entities, many are left in the dark.

"They're not scumbags, they're not thieves," said John Berrey, chairman of the Quapaw Tribe of Oklahoma. "They're not idiots. They're hard-working people who spend every day of their life trying to make the beneficiaries' lives better."

Special Master Report:
Interim Report of the Special Master Regarding the Filing of Interior's Eighth Quarterly Report (April 21, 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

Related Stories:
McCaleb latest in long line of DOI departures (11/25)
Norton 'incapable' of reform, say trust experts (09/25)
How to Mismanage Indian Trust Assets Without Really Trying (08/07)
Feathers ruffled in and out of Indian Country (07/31)
Top trust reform official comes under fire (05/21)
Feisty memos at heart of trust reform feud (05/20)
Key trust reform player leaving BIA (02/28)
TAAMS failure traced to promoted manager (12/20)
Memo: Solicitor's order was 'intimidating' (10/10)
Interior takes lawyers off trust fund (9/14)
Retaliation charged as BIA official jumps ship (7/25)
Heartaches come for trust fund employees (7/25)

Copyright © Indianz.Com
More headlines...
Stay Connected:

Local Links:
Federal Register | Indian Gaming | Jobs & Notices | In The Hoop | Message Board
Latest News:
Native Sun News: Harvest the Hope concert unites Keystone foes (10/2)
Mark Trahant: A lot stake for Native voters in Montana this year (10/2)
BIA extends comment period for changes to rights-of-way rule (10/2)
Navajo Nation won't delay election despite presidential dispute (10/2)
Column: Joba Chamberlain shares his life story through tattoos (10/2)
Washington city could turn Columbus Day into Coast Salish Day (10/2)
Cherokee Nation chief apologizes for attending live pigeon shoot (10/1)
Elizabeth Cook-Lynn: Telling the indigenous story with public art (10/1)
DOI puts another $1M from lands sales into Cobell scholarships (10/1)
9th Circuit bars use of tribal conviction in domestic assault case (10/1)
2nd Circuit rebuffs tribal online lenders in dispute with New York (10/1)
Crystal Willcuts: A tribute to my mother who was lost to cancer (10/1)
Seneca Nation man launches campaign for mayor of Salamanca (10/1)
BIA ends comment period on reform to federal recognition rule (10/1)
African-American lawmakers accuse Pamunkey Tribe of racism (10/1)
Officials claim Oklahoma owed $30M in Impact Aid for schools (10/1)
FCC will consider petition to outlaw R-word on public airwaves (10/1)
BLM struggles to manage wild horse population as herds grow (10/1)
Opinion: North Fork Rancheria casino brings boost to economy (10/1)
Report places economic impact of US gaming industry at $240B (10/1)
Shinnecock Nation gaming partner cut $250K monthly payment (10/1)
Column: Seminole Tribe poised for continued growth in gaming (10/1)
Native Sun News: Agency weighs uranium mine near sacred site (9/30)
Jim Abourezk: South Dakota tribes can put Rick Weiland in office (9/30)
Cherokee chief participated in live pigeon shoot for Sen. Inhofe (9/30)
Navajo vice president returns home after near fatal spider bite (9/30)
North Dakota tribe sees big problems as energy industry grows (9/30)
Andre Cramblit: Another year brings challenges for our people (9/30)
Jack Duran: State's 'shocking' attack on Big Lagoon Rancheria (9/30)
Navajo Nation Council to select a new leader after resignation (9/30)
Editorial: Long delayed trust fund settlement for Navajo Nation (9/30)
Keepseagle plaintiffs oppose use of $380M to create foundation (9/30)
Opinion: Working with New Mexico tribes to protect sacred sites (9/30)
Pueblo man chosen as chair of VA minority advisory committee (9/30)
Woman sues over fall at Fallon Paiute Shoshone Tribe business (9/30)
Seminole Tribe makes another attempt to join banking business (9/30)
Mohegan Tribe purchases more wood pellet production facilities (9/30)
Ponca Tribe takes down old headquarters and readies new home (9/30)
Native Mob gang leader sentenced to 43 years in federal prison (9/30)
Three indicted for murder of man from Northern Arapaho Tribe (9/30)
Rivals funded DC trips to oppose Tohono O'odham Nation casino (9/30)
American Gaming Association includes tribes in economic report (9/30)
Editorial: Vote yes to support North Fork Rancheria gaming deal (9/30)
Editorial: Florida shouldn't take a gamble with casino expansion (9/30)
Tim Giago: All Indian people ask is for America to honor treaties (9/29)
Native Sun News: Tribes take on IRS and win battle over taxation (9/29)
Mark Trahant: Indian vote could bring a surprise in South Dakota (9/29)
Tribal General Welfare Exclusion Act signed into law by Obama (9/29)
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.