FROM THE ARCHIVE

Troubled trust office faces another move

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FRIDAY, DECEMBER 6, 2002

A trust fund organization whose employees have expressed strong dissatisfaction with their own management will be shuffled yet again under the Bush administration's proposed reorganization.

The Office of Trust Records (OTR) is located within the Office of Special Trustee (OST) and is responsible for the records of more than 300,000 American Indians and hundreds of tribes. But in September, Deputy Interior Secretary J. Steven Griles took direct control, stripping Tommy Thompson, a career bureaucrat whose testimony helped seal a contempt citation against Secretary Gale Norton, of his leadership.

OTR faces another management shift with a proposal the Bush administration says will improve services to individual and tribal beneficiaries. "It will become part of the [chief information] office," a department official said.

The shake-up would be the third time in the past year that changes have been made at OTR. Its former director, Ken Rossman, was removed from the post last winter amid a particularly acrimonious investigation by the court overseeing the debacle. He currently faces sanctions for what a federal judge called a personal attack on a judicial officer.

The removal, and other changes, have done little to improve employee morale, based on a department survey. While OTR's 51 employees said they enjoyed their work, they voiced overwhelmingly negative sentiments about their supervisors.

According to the survey, completed in October, responses to key questions provoked strong responses. By more than 2-1 margins, the employees said they were either "dissatisfied" or "very dissatisfied" with their bosses. Most employees also said they "disagree" or "strongly disagree" with OTR management.

OTR was established by Congress in 1994 to correct for a century of inadequate policies. Records belonging to Indian beneficiaries are in poor shape, if they even exist.

But its mandate has been hindered amid complaints not just from employees but from Indian Country. Tribes reluctantly sent their records to OTR for safe-keeping, only to find out that not much progress has been made over the years. Three tribes -- the Oglala Sioux Tribe of South Dakota, the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe of South Dakota and the Umatilla Tribes of Oregon -- continue to hold out despite threats of legal action by the Interior.

Earlier this year, OTR had to be stopped from transferring 34,000 boxes of trust fund records to a federal repository where they faced potential destruction. According to a critical court report, senior managers, including Rossman, made the decision to move the records without proper planning.

"The records are the lifeblood of the trust," said Keith Harper, a Native American Rights Fund attorney representing the Indian plaintiffs in the Cobell lawsuit.

Relevant Documents:
Organizational Review: Office of Trust Records (DOI October 2002)

Relevant Links:
Indian Trust, Department of Interior - http://www.doi.gov/indiantrust
Indian Trust: Cobell v. Norton - http://www.indiantrust.com
Cobell v. Norton, Department of Justice - http://www.usdoj.gov/civil/cases/cobell/index.htm
Trust Reform, NCAI - http://www.ncai.org/main/pages/
issues/other_issues/trust_reform.asp

Related Stories:
McCaleb announces reorganization (12/5)
New proposal is BITAM plus more (12/5)
McCaleb latest in long line of DOI departures (11/25)
Court cites 'troubling record' at Interior (11/14)
Report slams top trust reform officials (04/18)
Paper clips and lip service for trust records (04/12)
Trust fund judge considering sanctions for 'attack' (04/04)
Norton challenges contempt recommendation (11/15)
Action against Norton urged 'on all fronts' (10/29)
Interior loses challenge to trust fund probe (8/30)
Attempt to limit trust fund probe rejected (7/24)
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