Increases expected in trust reform budget
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Draft budget documents indicate the Bush administration is prepared to seek historic increases for trust reform, potentially at the expense of other Indian programs at the Department of Interior.

According to an early version of the fiscal year 2004 budget, the department is requesting $525 million to carry out its trust responsibilities to more than 500 tribes and 500,000 American Indians. The amount represents a $147 million increase from expected 2003 levels.

"Eliminating Indian trust management deficiencies remains one of the highest priorities for the department," the document, dated September 25, states.

If enacted, the funding would be the largest trust-related increase in the history of the Bureau of Indian Affairs. During the past six years, more than $600 million has been spent on trust reform alone, a figure Congressional appropriators have increasingly expressed concerns about, even as they keep the money flowing.

Tex Hall, president of the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI) echoed that sentiment yesterday. While he said tribes will welcome additional funding, he said it must be spent wisely and must not impact critical funding for tribal governments, infrastructure and economic development.

"They've robbed Peter to pay Paul," he said. "They've done it before."

Dan DuBray, an Interior spokesperson, was unable to comment about the upcoming budget, which is due to be presented in early February 2004. He said he would look into the issue.

Earlier this month, outgoing Assistant Secretary Neal McCaleb tried to address the funding dilemma. "We have always said we weren't going to cannibalize the rest of the budget," he said at NCAI's annual meeting.

Based on the 2003 budget, which has yet to be approved by Congress, tribal leaders' fears could easily be confirmed. Norton requested an $84 million increase, but with the exception of tribal priority allocation (TPA) funds, which are the lifeblood of tribal operations, other program areas saw no substantial gains.

"You should be adding on hundreds of millions of dollars," Ron Allen, chairman of Washington's Jamestown S'Klallam Tribe told McCaleb. "You have . . . a government-to-government obligation to the tribes."

According to the document, five key areas are getting a boost. They include funding for a new Indian trust organization, information technology, trust records management, historical accounting activities and land and natural resource management.

A total of $36 million will be used to restructure the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the Office of Special Trustee. Although tribes have not agreed to key reforms in this area, the department plans to move ahead without their consent, officials have repeatedly said.

According to the figures, several OST programs will be phased out to make way for a new organization. "To budget for disbanding the OST with a Congressional law in place is really not being responsible," asserted Hall, referring to the 1994 American Indian Trust Reform Act.

IT would receive a record $129 million in order to correct for known security vulnerabilities that led to a court-ordered shutdown from which the BIA has never fully recovered. A specialized network called TrustNet; Indian Trust Systems, formerly known as TAAMS; and BIA data cleanup are some of the programs that are covered.

Historical accounting activities would receive $60 million, approximately 90 percent of which is expected to go to third-party contractors. The budget anticipates reconciling 95 percent of judgment fund and per capita trust fund accounts by the end of fiscal year 2004, or October 2005.

Money is also sought to start work on a limited set of Individual Indian Money (IIM) accounts. The Interior is under court order to account for money derived from oil, gas, timber and other land-based activities that occur on 11 million acres of individually-owned Indian land.

Three tribes are also due to see work on their trust fund accounts, according to the draft. Nearly 20 tribes have filed suit in the federal courts to seek an accounting of their funds and correct for decades of fiduciary mismanagement.

Relevant Documents:
FY 2004 Budget Request: Summary Only (DOI September 2002)

Relevant Links:
Indian Trust, Department of Interior -
Indian Trust: Cobell v. Norton -
Cobell v. Norton, Department of Justice -
Trust Reform, NCAI -

Past Stories on FY2003 Budget:
Trust drives small increase in BIA budget (2/5)
Interior security funds outlined (2/5)
Norton sketches trust reform budget (2/1)

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McCaleb faces continued probe (11/26)
Opinion: U.S. hypocrisy on trust fund (11/26)
Interior's casualties of war (11/25)
Editorial: McCaleb 'had enough' (11/25)
Running BIA a tough job for the willing (11/25)
NNN: 'Attack' on McCaleb decried (11/25)
McCaleb resigning from BIA (11/22)
17 months at arm's length (11/22)
End of road for Neal McCaleb (11/22)
Opinion: IIM lawsuit is about dignity (11/22)
Norton fights contempt citation (11/20)
Tribal organization subpoenaed (11/20)
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Norton again blames Cobell (11/18)