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Swimmer affirms right to trust fund accounting
FRIDAY, JUNE 27, 2003

The federal government has always had a duty to account for the Indian trust fund, the Department of Interior official in charge of reforming the system said on Thursday.

But under several hours of cross-examination, special trustee Ross Swimmer refused to concede that the Bush administration's plans to conduct an historical accounting was inadequate. Although the Individual Indian Money (IIM) dates to 1887, Swimmer said it was appropriate to limit the project to those accounts open as of 1994, the date of the law that created his office.

"I can't cite you specific statutes," Swimmer testified, when asked to explain why the plan imposes the restriction. "Beyond that, every trustee has a duty to account. That's innate within the trust."

Swimmer, a former assistant secretary and principal chief of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma, said the Bureau of Indian Affairs has periodically provided accounting statements to tribes and individual Indians. But without "reasonable assurance" that the information was accurate, he said it was his job, as head of the Office of Special Trustee (OST), to make sure the government was fulfilling its responsibilities.

"I have no reason to doubt the accuracy of those statements," the witness said, while adding: "I am not certain that they were all accurate."

During questioning by Native American Rights Fund (NARF) attorney Keith Harper, Swimmer waded into controversial territory when he discussed a 1990s project, led by Arthur Andersen, the accounting firm that has since gone out of business after being convicted of obstruction of justice for shredding documents, that looked at the tribal trust.

Although the effort only went as far back as 1972 and the General Accounting Office (GAO) has concluded a full reconciliation is "impossible," Swimmer suggested that it was both fair and accurate for the time period covered. He said some tribes may have signed documents accepting it as such.

"It would appear for those tribes that were reviewed, that it did provide that kind of [historical] accounting," he said.

Swimmer then promised he would review Arthur Andersen's work. "As soon as possible," he testified, "I have a lot of work to do."

Swimmer, confirmed to his post this past April, returns to the stand this morning to resume his testimony. Harper expects questioning to last until early next week. Topics to be discussed include the application of Indian preference at the Interior, tribal consultation and other reform issues.

Once Swimmer is off the stand, the plaintiffs plan to call three of four rebuttal witnesses, including an aide to the late former U.S. Congressman Mike Synar, the Democrat from Oklahoma whose "Misplaced Trust" report highlighted some of the controversy during Swimmer's Reagan-era tenure of the Bureau of Indian Affairs. They expect the trial, which started May 1, to conclude by July 8.

Relevant Links:
Office of Special Trustee - http://www.ost.doi.gov
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:
Swimmer challenged on Bush reform plans (6/27)
Swimmer expected to take stand in Cobell trial (6/25)
Griles gets Cobell wish list from House (6/26)
Taxpayers fund private attorneys to tune of $3M (6/25)
Swimmer testimony to come at end of Cobell trial (06/05)
Cason to take stand in Indian trust fund trial (6/4)
Indian trust standards debated (6/3)
Suit aims to halt reorganization (6/3)
Norton starts defense in trust fund trial (6/2)
Tribes stress unity on trust reform solutions (6/2)
Cobell welcomes a settlement to trust case (5/29)
Lamberth criticizes interference with trust fund case (05/22)
Tribes oppose OST expansion into Indian County (5/22)
Swimmer: Don't fear changes at Interior (5/22)
On trust, Swimmer turns to private sector (5/14)
Trial in Cobell trust fund case kicks off (05/02)
Bush reform plans debated in trust fund trial (05/02)
Cobell v. Norton Recap: Day 1 of Trial 1.5 (05/02)
Court tackles trust accounting and reform plans (05/01)

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