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Norton outlines trust reform budget

Last Updated: 7:27 p.m. Eastern Standard Time.

Secretary of Interior Gale Norton today announced that her fiscal year 2003 budget will contain an $83.6 million increase for trust reform activities.

Speaking to tribal leaders in Washington, D.C., Norton said the increase would fund reform at both the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the Office of the Special Trustee. She did not detail an amount for each agency and declined requests by tribal leaders during a question and answer session to do so.

Bureau of Indian Affairs spokesperson Nedra Darling also declined comment. Interior spokesperson John Wright said he was not involved in budget issues.

For fiscal year 2002, which began in October, Norton asked for and Congress appropriated $228.6 million for trust asset management. Of this amount, $118.4 was directed to the BIA and $110.2 to the OST.

Going by Norton's figure, trust would receive $312.2 million in fiscal year 2003. This represents a 27 percent increase.

Coincidentally, the total figure is close to a $300 million reprogramming request Norton made of Congressional appropriators last fall to fund the Bureau of Indian Trust Assets Management. The request has been halted, pending tribal consultation on BITAM, at the direction of Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) and key lawmakers.

In addition to the trust budget announcement, Norton said tribal priority allocation (TPA) funds would receive a 3 percent increase of $21 million. This would put TPA at $776.8 million.

In response to the proposed budget, tribal leaders expressed disappointment. "It's just a start," said National Congress of American Indians President Tex Hall (NCAI).

Hall pointed to a third-party assessment by EDS Corporation which documents the need for adequate staffing and resources. Meaningful trust reform will not occur unless the Bush administration seeks significant funding increases, he said.

Navajo Nation council member Erwin Keeswood also voiced displeasure. He said the budget reflected implementation of BITAM without tribal consent.

Norton will officially unveil the details of the budget on Monday at 2 p.m. at the main Department of Interior building in Washington, D.C.

Today on Indianz.Com:
Trust system takes center stage in contempt (2/1)
Norton renews push on private trust data (2/1)

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