FROM THE ARCHIVE
BIA official: Organization was in 'disarray'
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APRIL 5, 2001

Organization at the government office that issues checks to an estimated 300,000 American Indian trust fund account holders was so poor that the Bureau of Indian Affairs top computer official can't recall exactly who was running it, according to a court document made public on Wednesday.

In sworn testimony provided to the federal court overseeing trust reform, Chief Information Officer Dom Nessi apologized for the state of affairs at the Office of Information Resources Management (OIRM), the BIA's operations, data, and telecommunications center. But even though he had been overseeing the office for several months, Nessi admitted its "organization was in disarray" and that any one of three individuals could have been in charge last May.

One month later, Nessi told senior management he no longer wanted oversight of the office. According to Nessi, his request was not accepted.

Given the controversial nature of the OIRM, Nessi's reluctance to have anything to do with the office might be easily explained. In an action protested by the Indian plaintiffs in the billion dollar trust fund lawsuit, the BIA decided to move the office from Albuquerque, New Mexico, to Reston, Virginia.

Their concerns about the safety and integrity of trust fund records even had Judge Royce Lamberth worried. He temporarily halted the move but almost one year ago to this very day, he said it could proceed.

An employee who protested the move is also at the center of year-long retaliation dispute in which even Secretary of Interior Gale Norton has become involved. After complaining that trust reform was not working, computer specialist Mona Infield was stripped of her duties and assigned to home duty where she has remained for over a year.

Infield, an Albuquerque resident, is still drawing an $80,000 annual salary. Attempts by Norton and government lawyers to settle her claims have so far failed.

The office is also being investigated for the destruction of potential destruction of trust fund records. Although the government tried to prevent Nessi from providing any sworn testimony regarding the case, Special Master Alan Balaran was able to interview him, under oath, last week regarding the potential destruction.

The 50-page court document reveals what has now become public knowledge about the management problems that have plagued the Department of Interior's attempts to reform the trust fund system. Tom Slonaker, Interior's top trust fund official, last month told Congress that the government needs better management personnel.

Despite admitting there were a number of internal problems, many identified by Nessi himself, Slonaker told lawmakers that trust reform is working.

Get Nessi's Testimony:
Special Master's Deposition of Dominic Nessi re: loss of trust data. (March 27, 2001)

Relevant Links:
Indian Trust: Cobell v. Norton - http://www.indiantrust.com

Only on Indianz.Com:
The Trust Fund Fiasco (Smoke Signals 1999)

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