Home > News > More Headlines > Bunker mentality evident in trust reform fight
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

Stay Connected

On Facebook

On Twitter

On Google+

On SoundCloud

More Headlines

Tribes rest easy as Supreme Court wraps up a surprising session (6/24)
Aaron Payment re-elected as chairman of Sault Ste. Marie Tribe (6/24)
Gun Lake Tribe hosts annual Sweet Grass Moon Powwow in July (6/24)
Native Sun News: First Native hockey referee 'Butchy' passes on (6/24)
Delphine Red Shirt: Lakota people denied voting rights on our land (6/24)
Ruth Hopkins: Saving sacred Bear Butte from a massive biker bar (6/24)
Terese Mailhot: Becoming a better ally after the Orlando shooting (6/24)
April Youpee-Roll: Elizabeth Warren owes more to Indian Country (6/24)
Another land-into-trust fix reportedly being drafted in the Senate (6/24)
Federal charges filed in kidnapping of girl on Fort Peck Reservation (6/24)
Non-Indian charged for trespassing at Nambe Pueblo in New Mexico (6/24)
St. Croix Chippewa Tribe warned not to launch marijuana operation (6/24)
Eastern Shawnee Tribe breaks ground on $34M expansion at casino (6/24)
Non-Indian gaming firm loses challenge to law for new tribal casino (6/24)
Grand Ronde Tribes to finish demolition work at site of old racetrack (6/24)
Supreme Court deadlocks in closely-watched tribal jurisdiction case (6/23)
Matthew Fletcher: 'Huge win' for Mississippi Choctaw court system (6/23)
Native American Basketball Invitational draws top talent to Arizona (6/23)
Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe almost done with long-awaited theater (6/23)
Susanville Rancheria thanks lawmakers for help with land-into-trust (6/23)
Senate Committee on Indian Affairs schedules hearing on three bills (6/23)
Supreme Court backs affirmative action policy in long-running case (6/23)
Native Sun News: Senate committee takes on Indian Health Service (6/23)
Mark Trahant: A Republican plan to terminate Indian Health Service (6/23)
James Giago Davies: Welfare for corporations but nothing for tribes (6/23)
Peter d'Errico: Justice Clarence Thomas critiques federal Indian law (6/23)
Two charged for beating and setting woman from Crow Tribe on fire (6/23)
White House defends fracking regulation imposed on Indian lands (6/23)
Mescalero Apache woman hosts fundraiser for Miss United States (6/23)
Standing Rock Sioux Tribe to collect sales tax on entire reservation (6/23)
Seneca-Cayuga Nation ordered to conduct another council election (6/23)
Poarch Creek land-into-trust bill could help casino effort in Florida (6/23)
Cherokee Nation enters deal to run commercial casino in Arkansas (6/23)
Tohono O'odham Nation told to turn over casino-related documents (6/23)
Senate Indian Affairs Committee debates marijuana & sovereignty (6/22)
Major trust reform bill supported by Indian Country signed into law (6/22)
President Obama signs land-into-trust bill for Susanville Rancheria (6/22)
Chairman Jim Boyd from Colville Tribes passes away at age of 60 (6/22)
Tribes take more control of their land with HEARTH Act regulations (6/22)
Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community adds another 128 acres (6/22)
Lakota Country Times: Pine Ridge Reservation graduates celebrate (6/22)
Native Sun News: Year of Reconciliation sees another anniversary (6/22)
Former Fond du Lac Band chairman Peter Defoe passes on at 77 (6/22)
Dakota Access Pipeline to go underneath tribal burial site in Iowa (6/22)
more headlines...

Advertisement

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.