FROM THE ARCHIVE

Request for trust fund probe rejected

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WEDNESDAY, NOVEMBER 7, 2001

After telling a federal judge it was moving to investigate allegations of misconduct against senior managers and attorneys and potentially take corrective action, the Department of Interior has rejected an internal probe over its handling of the trust fund.

In August, Solicitor Bill Myers, the department's top legal official, referred seven incidents of wrongdoing for possible review. At the time, he said it was "incumbent on us to assure that all such allegations are investigated, and appropriate action taken based on the results of the investigation."

However, Inspector General Earl E. Devaney, the department's top investigator, has now rejected most of the allegations sent his way. After looking into the incidents, he told Myers in an October 12 letter that no further investigation was warranted.

That leaves just three issues for potential review and punishment by the Interior. Coincidentally, two of them -- the government's failure to perform an historical accounting on the Individual Indian Money (IIM) trust and its refusal to report the numerous problems of a $40 million software system -- are matters for which U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth has indicated he will hold Secretary Gale Norton in contempt.

Given that Devaney rejected the other allegations because of similar investigations by outside sources, there is little likelihood he will probe the remaining three himself. According to a lawyer representing the IIM account holders, rejection is all but guaranteed.

"This is typical of the Inspector General," said Washington, D.C. attorney Dennis Gingold. "They have never found a problem with anything."

"This is business as usual, which demonstrates why they are not fit to be a trustee," Gingold added.

On the heels of two critical court reports, Myers on August 17 asked the Office of the Inspect General to look into allegations dating as far back as two years. Subsequently, attorneys for the government told Judge Lamberth the Interior "has taken steps to address allegations of past misconduct."

The incidents in question include the destruction of trust fund records against court orders, retaliation against a Bureau of Indian Affairs employee, lapses in computer security and misconduct of an attorney. In response, Devaney said none of these four referrals required action, citing ongoing or concluded investigations.

According to Devaney, a former Interior attorney was investigated by "two independent organizations specifically chartered to look into ethical violations by attorneys." Therefore, he said the Interior need not question why Willa Perlmutter told Judge Lamberth the government was producing trust fund documents even though in February 1999 he held then Secretary of Interior Bruce Babbitt, Secretary of Treasury Rick Rubin and Assistant Secretary Kevin Gover in contempt for not doing so.

With regard to Mona Infield, a BIA employee who is drawing an $80,000 annual salary despite never having been to work for more than a year, Devaney said the Office of Special Counsel, an independent government agency, is still reviewing the matter. Therefore, he said the Interior shouldn't consider if former Deputy Commissioner Hilda Manuel, former Chief Information Officer Dom Nessi and other senior management retaliated against Infield because doing so would "infringe on the jurisdiction" of the special counsel.

Similarly, Devaney said he couldn't look into why the Interior still hasn't fixed computer security breaches even after his own office in December 2000 has said there has been "little progress." An Interior investigation would only interfere with Special Master Alan Balaran, said Devaney.

Devaney was appointed to his post by President Clinton in 1999.

Get the Correspondence:
Status of investigations into Interior misconduct (Devaney to Myers 10/12)
Referral for Investigation and Recommendations (Myers to Devaney 8/17)

Relevant Links:
Office of the Inspector General - http://www.oig.doi.gov
Office of the Solicitor - http://www.doi.gov/sol
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

Related Stories:
Griles taking lead on trust reform (11/5)
Norton's defense off to a 'bad start' (11/2)
Judge ready to hold Norton in contempt (10/31)
Interior promises trust fund defense (10/31)
Judge: Norton's actions 'contemptuous' (10/30)
Trust fund defense team scrapped (10/30)
Action on Norton urged 'on all fronts' (10/29)
Norton views broken trust fund system (10/29)
Internal trust fund investigation sought (8/22)