FROM THE ARCHIVE

Internal trust fund investigation sought

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WEDNESDAY, AUGUST 22, 2001

Acknowledging harsh criticism of the government by a federal court, the Department of Interior's top legal official is recommending a number of attorneys and senior managers be investigated for their conduct in the trust fund debacle.

In a letter made public on Tuesday, Bill Myers -- who was sworn-in to his post as Solicitor last month -- is asking the Office of the Inspector General to look into several incidences of reported misconduct. From the alleged retaliation against a Bureau of Indian Affairs employee to a $40 million software system that may never work, he is calling on the department to take action on what has become a new nightmare for the Bush administration.

"It is incumbent on us to assure that all such allegations are investigated, and appropriate action taken based on the results of the investigation, including a report thereon to the court," wrote Myers in an August 17 letter.

Myers' letter comes in the wake of two court reports highly critical of the government for its handling of the trust fund case. Court monitor Joseph S. Kieffer has slammed both the present and past administrations for stonewalling on providing an historical accounting to an estimated 300,000 American Indians and for not being honest about a software system that "may not not salvageable."

Just last week, US District Judge Royce Lamberth, the federal judge presiding over the landmark Cobell v. Norton case, hit the Interior for not disciplining its attorneys for the destruction and subsequent cover-up of 162 boxes of trust fund records in 1999.

As he unsealed an internal report which detailed only light punishment for Department of Treasury attorneys involved in the incident, Lamberth said Interior officials have yet to provide proof "demonstrating that they have held any attorney accountable in any way whatsoever for any misconduct in this litigation."

Despite Myers' push, however, there isn't any indication Inspector General Earl E. Devaney will respond. According to Interior officials, Myers' request isn't out of the ordinary.

"It is normal practice for a bureau . . . to ask the Office of the Inspector General to investigate" allegations of misconduct, said spokesperson Stephanie Hanna. "Just because something is referred to the Inspector General doesn't mean that anyone has an outcome in mind."

One of the incidents is so old that no corrective action could be taken. An attorney cited in Lamberth's February 1999 decision to hold a number of top members of the Clinton administration has since left the government for private practice.

The allegations of retaliation against Mona Infield, a BIA computer specialist in Albuquerque, New Mexico, also involve departed managers and officials. The special master in the Cobell case has recommended Lamberth hold a contempt trial to address the allegations.

Should the Inspector General decide to investigate, criminal wrongdoing would be referred to the Department of Justice, said Hanna. Personnel actions would be referred back to the appropriate bureau, she added.

Read Myers' Letter:
Referral for Investigation and Recommendations (8/17)

Relevant Links:
Office of the Inspector General - http://www.oig.doi.gov
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:
DOJ plans action for destroyed trust records (8/17)
Treasury trust fund report unsealed (8/15)
Court report criticizes trust fund software (8/10)
Trust fund holders want trial against Bush officials (8/7)
Court monitor sets sights on software system (8/1)
Interior cited for destroyed e-mails (7/30)
Norton slammed by trust fund monitor (7/12)
Latest trust fund system a 'failure' (7/11)
Interior holding back security reports (6/29)
Norton accused of harassment (6/12)
Interior contempt trial recommended (2/22)
Ex-employee says harassment started at top (2/15)
Intimidation alleged at Interior (2/14)