Replacement found for Norton on trust fund
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When Secretary of Interior Gale Norton is stripped of her duties to American Indian beneficiaries, court monitor Joseph S. Kieffer III should take her place, the plaintiffs in the billion dollar trust fund lawsuit said on Monday.

Charging that Norton, her top aides, attorneys and senior managers have "failed" to provide even the most basic responsibilities to an estimated 300,000 Individual Indian Money (IIM) account holders, the plaintiffs have asked a federal judge to name Kieffer as the outside caretaker. In a proposal submitted as a follow-up to one seeking to place 39 past and present government representatives in contempt, Kieffer is pushed as the logical receiver for the broken system.

Because Norton has neglected to restore faith to the IIM account holders and continues to "deceive" a federal court watching over her department, "appointment of a receiver is necessary to ensure that the trust duties owed by the United States to individual Indian trust beneficiaries are discharged in accordance with law," wrote the plaintiffs.

A former U.S. military intelligence officer, Kieffer's strengths have come through in recent months not by aiding America's war on terrorism but by uncovering a number of controversies at the Department of Interior. Since being named court monitor by U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth in April, he has released four reports highly critical of the Clinton and Bush administrations.

At the time, the government put an upbeat spin on Kieffer's appointment. Norton told Congress she welcomed Kieffer's oversight and said he would provide "objective information" about efforts to fix a system so mismanaged the government cannot guarantee any Indian beneficiary is receiving the proper amount of money.

But in responses to Kieffer's reports, Norton has challenged a number of his findings. After being slammed for stone-walling on an historical accounting, her attorneys disputed the notion that the government has ever been "ordered" to provide any beneficiary with an accurate report of his or her funds.

"Indeed, the Interior was required to move forward in a responsible and deliberate fashion to design an accounting," Norton's lawyers wrote on August 10. But they say no court has gone so far as to "order an accounting."

Two subsequent responses uncovering the failures of a $40 million software system designed to modernize the trust system have been less adversarial. But both praise Norton for taking steps to improve the trust fund, and her attorneys have reserved the right to challenge Kieffer's findings at a later date.

They might soon do so in their pending response to Kieffer's fourth report. Released last week, it charged that Norton submitted an "untruthful, inaccurate, and incomplete" status update to Lamberth after her top trust fund official, Tom Slonaker, and several managers refused to verify it.

An Interior spokesperson declined to comment on whether Kieffer would be an appropriate trustee. But Stephanie Hanna reiterated the government's position against any receiver, no matter who that might be.

"The department does not support and would not support the idea of the trust fund being taken into receivership," she said yesterday. We feel that the proper place for the trust fund is in the Department of Interior."

A separate proposal submitted by the plaintiffs seeks to have a trial date set as early as November for placing 39 past and present officials, attorneys and management in contempt of court for their handling of the trust fund.

Get the Proposed Orders:
Kieffer as Receiver | Contempt Trial

Relevant Links:
Office of the Special Trustee -
Trust Management Improvement Project -
Indian Trust: Cobell v. Norton -

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