Interior loses challenge to trust fund probe
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In another setback to the federal government, the special master in the Cobell v. Norton trust fund lawsuit has rejected an attempt to limit his investigation of a top-level Department of Interior office.

For the second time in two months, Alan Balaran has turned down the government's push to scale back his probe into the Office of Trust Records (OTR). Although he announced his investigation back in March, he has been met with resistance by government attorneys.

At issue is whether the office -- which reports to Special Trustee Tom Slonaker, a Clinton appointee retained by the Bush administration -- is meeting its responsibilities to an estimated 300,000 American Indians and tribes. Under the government's trust reform plan, the office is charged with making improvements to the well-documented poor records keeping practices of the Interior.

According to court mandated status reports, the records project has not met some of its recent goals. Work with two government contractors hasn't been completed on time nor done satisfactorily, according to a May report.

Additionally, the office canceled a $3.2 million contract due to poor communication between the government and an outside company.

Nevertheless, the office has completed a number of other goals under the reform plan. Yet despite claiming success on a number of fronts, government lawyers have refused to hand over documents regarding the project to Balaran.

Charging that he is overstepping legal boundaries, the Interior sought to prevent Balaran from obtaining financial, planning and other decision documents. The Interior also argued Balaran couldn't review the documents because the project hasn't yet been fully completed.

On Tuesday, Balaran rejected all of the government's arguments. Since US District Judge Royce Lamberth has found that the government has failed to meet a number of its duties, he said his probe was more than appropriate.

And since the Interior claims the projects for which Balaran is requesting documents have been "completed," the government's continued objection to the probe is "a nullity."

Previously, Balaran rejected an attempt by the Interior to limit his questioning of OTR managers. "Either OTR employees are capable of faithfully executing their trust responsibilities or they are not," said Balaran in July. "This investigation will find out."

Ken Rossman, the OTR director, has since challenged Balaran's probe. Balaran had voluntarily delayed his investigation to let Rossman and other managers hire their own private lawyers.

Interior spokespersons yesterday had no immediate comment on the department's continued challenges to being investigated. The seventh quarterly status report on trust reform is due to be released tomorrow.

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

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Norton pushes trust fund progress (8/27)
Norton challenges trust fund monitor (8/23)
Internal trust fund investigation sought (8/22)
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)
Attempt to limit trust fund probe rejected (7/24)
Norton slammed by trust fund monitor (7/12)
Trust fund contract canceled (6/28)