FROM THE ARCHIVE
Interior admits latest trust fund software a failure
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WEDNESDAY, JULY 11, 2001

In yet another setback to the government's attempt to fix the broken trust fund system, the Department of Interior this week acknowledged that a recent computer software test at a Bureau of Indian Affairs office in Montana was a complete failure.

Despite more than six months of intensive work by an outside contractor and BIA employees, the software contained a number of errors, officials said. But not only did the software fail to meet expectations, it also corrupted existing trust fund data.

Data corruption -- if gone uncorrected -- would put the funds of an estimated 300,000 Individual Indian Money (IIM) account holders at risk.

The government, however, is brushing off the idea that the failure, which occurred in Billings last month, is a major blow to its efforts. "You never figure out anything the first time," said an official who is reviewing the results of the test. "Its frustrating but not unusual at all."

Elouise Cobell, an IIM account holder from the Blackfeet Reservation of Montana, scoffed. With her own funds at stake, she called the software "a total flop" and said the crash was indicative of the government's failure to "listen to the experts" in fixing the trust system.

"The only thing they'll listen to is a contempt of court charge," she added. Cobell is the lead plaintiff in the Cobell v. Norton trust fund lawsuit.

The Interior admits the broken software will set back trust reform in terms of time. Officials are foreseeing a delay of up to one year as the outside contractor, a Texas company known as Artesia Systems Group, works to correct the problems.

Known as the Trust Asset and Accounting Management System (TAAMS), Artesia has been developing the software for nearly three years now. At the time of the project's inception, former Secretary of Interior Bruce Babbitt and former Assistant Secretary Kevin Gover claimed the system could be up and running quickly since it was based on an off-the-shelf product.

Since then, the government has come to realize those expectations were faulty. Although Artesia has already developed one part of the TAAMS system, known as the land title module, success came only after several months of retooling.

However, that work may be in doubt with the results of last month's test of the land realty module, which failed to communicate properly with the title software.

Additionally, TAAMS has gone through six different project managers. As a result, Artesia not always received proper direction. "It was not planned the way it should have been," said an official.

To avoid these problems in the future, the government is paying EDS Corporation nearly $1 million to address management shortcomings. Within the next four months, EDS will provide a report to Secretary Gale Norton on the competency of Interior's management skills.

"[W]hile I believe that the Special Trustee [Tom Slonaker] is fulfilling his mandate to oversee trust reform, I believe that the Department would benefit from an independent assessment of the progress that has been made and of the challenges yet to come," wrote Norton in a top-level memorandum yesterday.

The conditions of Artesia's contract, which expires this year, are also being re-evaluated.

The news of the software crash came as Norton announced two major trust fund initiatives yesterday. An Interior spokesperson, however, said the Secretary did not have a direct comment on the Billings test.

"It's all very important that the system work correctly as planned," said Stephanie Hanna.

Today on Indianz.Com:
Norton takes trust into own hands (7/11)

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

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