Norton: No 'dollar amount' on trust fund mess
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The Department of Interior doesn't know how much 300,000 American Indians are owed because an historical accounting of their funds has not been conducted, Secretary Gale Norton said on Wednesday.

But while Norton acknowledged years of "mismanagement" of the Individual Indian Money (IIM) trust, she discounted the notion that any money has been lost. Echoing frequent comments made during the Clinton administration, she said an accounting effort has started.

"We are in the process now of doing an historical accounting that would allow us to look back through time and see whether there has been funds that have been lost that need to be restored to people," she said. "So we have been working to get that process underway."

Norton made her comments during a half-hour appearance on the C-SPAN program "Washington Journal." She was asked two questions about the Indian trust debacle.

"The Department of the Interior has not placed a dollar value on the amount of the problems that have come from the mismanagement," she said in response to a caller who wanted to know where the money has gone.

The second question focused on the Internet shutdown that has plagued her department since December. That was when U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth ordered the department to protect the assets of the IIM trust, to which the department responded by shutting down all of its computer systems.

Norton said the department is now operating at the "halfway point." The most "popular" web sites have been restored, she said, referencing the National Park Service.

She added that "most" of the payments to Indian beneficiaries have been made. "We've had to make some estimated payments for some types of those transactions because we didn't have the complete computer system going," she said.

Lamberth last month expressed frustration that payments weren't being made on time, even after the department announced it would send out checks. He also criticized Norton's second-in-command, Deputy Secretary J. Steven Griles, for saying he was "tired" of waiting for court approval to disburse oil and gas payments.

Those royalties are now being made on an estimated basis, as Norton reported.

More on Norton:
Video: Washington Journal (3/13) | Transcript (3/14)

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

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