FROM THE ARCHIVE
Memo: Solicitor's order was 'intimidating'
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WEDNESDAY, OCTOBER 10, 2001

A group of senior Department of Interior managers refused to verify the government's latest trust fund report after receiving an "intimidating" order to do so from Secretary Gale Norton's top legal official, a document filed in federal court shows.

In a tersely worded letter sent to Solicitor Bill Myers, four managers -- including the top aide to Special Trustee Tom Slonaker -- cite numerous reasons for their obstinance. Not only has Myers failed to provide "justification" for his request, approving the report "questions our integrity as public servants and Department of Interior employees," they wrote.

Or, they added, it "merely provides cover for attorneys and higher-level management in the case of future criticism." They pointed out that other managers have been "ridiculed" by court monitor Joseph S. Kieffer for approving less-than-accurate information contained in the court-mandated reports.

But in a telling note, and indicative of Kieffer's claims of harassment by Norton's top staff, the group suggests Myers was forcing them into certifying the report only because they rebuffed him earlier.

"[Y]our request appears to be a simple repeat of the earlier 'opportunity' to certify," wrote the managers on September 27, "but possibly more intimidating."

"We chose then not to avail ourselves of that 'opportunity,'" they reminded Myers. "Your [subsequent] order does not add to our sense of ease," they added.

Combined with Slonaker's objections to the quarterly report, the refusal of the managers to certify points to the Interior infighting that has put trust reform at risk. Beyond technical problems evident in reconciling more than one hundred years of financial mismanagement, the government has acknowledged it suffers from numerous shortcomings and has hired an outside consulting firm to assess trust reform.

That effort, however, may not account for the threats perceived by managers Tommy Thompson, Douglas Lords, Kenneth Moyers and Richard Fitzgerald. Not only do they question the legal consequences of verifying information which could be challenged in court, they point out that Myers offered conflicting reasons for requesting their assistance.

Myers asked the managers to certify by September 26. By then, the Interior had already been more than three weeks overdue in submitting the update to U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth.

To justify the delay, government lawyers filed a motion stating only that Slonaker needed more time to outline his objections. But Myers, in a September 20 memo, said the extension was necessary to receive certification from trust reform managers.

The incongruity, Thompson and his peers point out, "would not appear to resolve the reasons given for the delay and the actions promised to the Court."

Another Interior manager, Gabriel Sneezy, sent a separate letter to Myers refusing to certify the report. Significant decisions affecting the progress of a trust fund project were made "without my input," he wrote in an undated memo.

Get the Report:
Quarterly Status Report to the Court Number Seven (October 2001)

Today on Indianz.Com:
Official: Trust fund fix at 'great risk' of failure (10/10)

Relevant Links:
Office of the Solicitor - http://www.doi.gov/sol
Trust Management Improvement Project - http://www.doi.gov/bia/trust/tmip.htm
Indian Trust: Cobell v. Norton - http://www.indiantrust.com

Related Stories:
Infighting delaying trust fund fix (9/20)
Objections delaying trust fund report (9/6)
Norton pushes trust fund progress (8/27)

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