Deadline nears for trust fund accounting plan
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TUESDAY, MAY 7, 2002

Only one bank responded to a recent Department of Interior solicitation for assistance on its historical accounting project, a sign of an effort that the government's top trust reform official said still lacks "clarity."

In its latest status update on the progress of reform, the department informs the federal court overseeing the Indian trust that Bank of America has been chosen to help the Office of Historical Trust Accounting. Bert Edwards, once a high-ranking member of the Clinton administration who now works under Ross Swimmer, reports the company was the only one who took the bite.

But lack of independent expertise isn't the only obstacle facing the office, which Secretary Gale Norton created last July when she rejected a statistical sampling project the Clinton administration approved in its waning days. Even with the help of several consultants that are carrying out various mini-projects, Edwards has yet to make critical decisions regarding the assets of 300,000 American Indians whose funds the department must now account, according to Special Trustee Tom Slonaker.

"Further clarity is needed on how the various investigative aspects of the historical accounting project (including the numerous consultants) will be integrated into a process to accomplish the accounting," he writes in the status report.

With a Norton-imposed deadline "rapidly approaching," Slonaker notes, the information is becoming more significant. Edwards has promised Indian Country, Congress and U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth he will submit his plan for an accounting by the end of June.

For his part, Edwards isn't without speculation on what the effort might entail, despite the questions. In the update, he writes that he "expects" beneficiaries to be given a transaction-by-transaction report from opening balance to the end of the year 2000; a list of revenue, interest and disbursements from each account; and supporting documents.

None of the information is currently provided to account holders.

Edwards also reports that the accounting will vary depending on the time of allotment, which for some beneficiaries occurred as far back as the late 1800s. "Because lands were allotted at different times, the 'starting date' for each accounting varies from account to account," he writes.

Missing, of course, is the exact methodology for the effort. Some projects underway are aimed at helping define key details, including cost and time, but Slonaker said it was unclear how they will tie in to the larger accounting.

One project affecting members of the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians of California, for example, only deals with land leases and not the oil and gas activity typical to beneficiaries in Oklahoma, the Plains, the Navajo Nation and the Rocky Mountains. This Arthur Andersen-led effort was still in "pilot" and "preliminary" stages as of the end of March, according to Edwards.

Another project, led by Deloitte & Touche, has run into problems, reports Edwards, even though it has been pitched as a relatively small effort affecting less than 3,000 individual Indians in the Eastern region of the country. Like the Agua Caliente example, only allotments stemming largely from land claim awards are involved.

Edwards is reporting one success affecting 8,000 account holders but only because the pilot involved "relatively few transactions." Chavarria Dunne & Lamey reconciled $22.7 million in balances stemming from land claim awards and has been tasked to complete 10 groups of similar funds.

Related Documents:
9th Quarterly Report (May 2002)

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

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