Federal judge resuming Norton contempt trial
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After a two-week break during which little progress was made to rectify the Department of Interior's Internet shutdown, a federal judge today resumes proceedings in Secretary Gale Norton's contempt trial with an update on the state of computer security.

Before he left for an overseas trip, U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth said he hoped the government and his court could start reconnecting the department's information technology systems. Of particular concern to him and tribal leaders was the shutdown's effect on thousands of Native Americans throughout the country who haven't received royalty payments since November.

But there won't be much for government attorneys to report to Lamberth. While special master Alan Balaran has given permission to restart a trust fund computer system, only grazing funds are being distributed because a related system that process oil and gas royalties is still idle.

Bureau of Indian Affairs spokesperson Nedra Darling said yesterday grazing checks have been sent to some Indian beneficiaries. She did not have a dollar amount and said only one area BIA office out of 12 was able to make use of the Integrated Records Management System (IRMS).

Typically, oil and gas payments comprise a larger dollar amount than grazing.

Meanwhile, tribes have begun taking matters into their own hands. The Navajo Nation, the largest in the country, is making one-time grants to tribal members left out in the cold and the tribes on the Wind River Reservation in Wyoming have manually processed royalties.

Since Lamberth on December 5 ordered the department to disconnect from the Internet computer systems that house, or have access to, the trust assets of 300,000 American Indians, e-mail, web access and numerous other unrelated functions have been significantly hampered. Internal department reports have quantified the economic impact in the millions of dollars, a figure which has become of increased worry to Congress and budget overseers.

Information technology has been a major component of testimony in the contempt trial, which will resume after the status update. Government witness Deborah McLeod will take the stand to talk about the Trust Asset and Accounting Management System (TAAMS), a $40 million effort designed to bring trust management into the 21st century.

McLeod manages TAAMS on behalf of the Texas company which has been developing the system since 1998. But as a result of an assessment by EDS Corporation, Norton has halted work on TAAMS and is looking at possible alternatives, which McLeod testified she opposed.

Before the break, McLeod also blamed the failures of TAAMS on the Interior's inability to define its needs more clearly. Native American Rights Fund attorney Keith Harper said he plans to conclude his cross-examination of her today.

Department of Justice attorneys are then expected to call witness Dom Nessi, a former project manager of TAAMS, to the stand. It was Nessi's February 2001 memo on the "imploding" state of trust reform which led to the appointment of court monitor Joseph S. Kieffer III.

At the time, Nessi was the BIA's chief information officer new position. He left his post abruptly last summer just as hackers were breaking into computer systems at the BIA. He subsequently joined the National Park Service to serve as its CIO.

The proceedings start at 10 a.m.

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

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