Interior official denies trust fund 'conspiracy'
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A court monitor's highly critical report on the Department of Interior's failure to conduct an historical accounting of the assets of 300,000 American Indians is "too skewed" to be entirely credible, a senior government official said on Monday.

Testifying on the 17th day of a contempt trial against the Bush administration, Bob Lamb, a deputy budget and finance official, told a federal judge he disagreed with the "tone" of the report. "It pulled together a lot of information but the tone of it didn't track," he said.

"I think the report is too skewed to one view that I didn't see," asserted Lamb.

As he offered the government's first significant dissent with Joseph S. Kieffer III, a former military intelligence specialist who was appointed to watch over the Interior last April, Lamb said his recollection of events differed. While acknowledging the department failed to move on an accounting for more than one year, he denied officials intentionally sought to hide the true status of trust reform.

"There was no benefit to a conspiracy not to provide honest answers,"

Yet Lamb, during an extended conversation with U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth at the conclusion of his cross-examination by attorneys representing Indian beneficiaries, offered his apologies for the state of affairs. He said the department had lost its way since Norton took over last February.

"We talked about momentum between administrations, and things really did fall apart," Lamb confessed. "and I apologize on the part of the department for that."

Among other observations, Lamb said he was "aghast" to learn that Lamberth was never told by the Clinton administration about the true status of the $40 million Trust Asset & Accounting Management System (TAAMS). Although senior officials, including himself, walked away from a fall 1999 meeting believing the court would be informed, that never happened.

As the new administration came in, Lamb described a deteriorating situation. "[Former Bureau of Indian Affairs official] Dom Nessi's confessional memo couldn't have occurred in timing at a worse time," he said of February 23, 2001, warning of "imploding" reform.

"It was February. The Secretary comes aboard January 30th, she doesn't know who to believe," said Lamb.

The Internet security problems revealed over the summer only compounded woes, said Lamb. A BIA employee who discounted special master Alan Balaran's hacking seemed "credible" at the time, said Lamb, but was discounted after a computer security firm was able to break into the Individual Indian Money (IIM) trust.

"We're now in the mess that we're in," he concluded.

Lamb's purge of feelings, in many ways, was a repeat of his testimony during the Clinton administration's January 1999 contempt trial. He also apologized to Lamberth, who eventually sanctioned top Clinton officials for not producing documents relevant to the litigation.

But Lamberth did say he took Lamb for his word. "I value your advice," he said.

Lamberth said Lamb may be called back to court to decide whether to appoint a receiver for the IIM trust or accept Norton's controversial reorganization of the BIA.

Testimony continues today with Deborah McCloud on the stand. An employee of Applied Terravision in Texas, she is the project manager for TAAMS.

Today on Indianz.Com:
Witness testified against software corruption (1/15)

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

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