Interior 'hopeful' on shutdown as questions linger
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The Department of Interior remains "hopeful" that it can fix its Internet-related shutdown but resolving the debacle is taking longer than expected, a government attorney told a federal judge on Tuesday.

During a status hearing yesterday afternoon, Sandra Spooner of the Department of Justice's civil division said she may have been "a little too cautious" in handling the shutdown that was imposed on her client last month. Web sites, e-mail and royalty processing systems have idled for weeks, she said, with some systems incurring backlogs that may take even more time to clear.

"I really wanted to be very careful about it," said Spooner. "Maybe that was wise."

"It may have been unwise in the sense that it has taken a long time," she added, but said: "We're still hopeful . . . we can move things along more quickly."

On December 5, U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth ordered the Interior to disconnect from the Internet computer systems and computers that house, or have access to, the assets of 300,000 American Indian landowners. His made his move in response to a court-directed investigation which showed the department had no security measures in place despite knowing about problems for nearly a decade.

Initially, however, the department was voluntarily shutting down relevant systems. Associate Deputy Secretary James Cason, a political appointee who did not require Senate confirmation, started pulling the plug even before the order was issued, as Matt Fader, another Justice attorney, gave Lamberth a positive report.

"Indications are that it might not create a substantial disruption," Fader, later rebuked, said at the time.

But as has been made "painfully aware" to Assistant Secretary Neal McCaleb and even more so to Indian landowners throughout the country who have not received their money since November, the government's response to the situation has not always been wise, as their attorneys now admit. That point was driven home by Dennis Gingold, an attorney for the account holders, who said the Interior hasn't lived up to its own promises.

"The Indian trust beneficiaries are not being treated the way they should," Gingold said. "We just do not understand why this attitude persists because the most important thing . . . is to provide trust beneficiaries their money."

Looking to clear the air, or at least provide what he called a "a more complete record," special master Alan Balaran drafted a status report on the shutdown, which was made public yesterday. In it, he chastised the Interior for telling Indian Country, Congress and the public one thing while presenting something else to the court.

"Interior's representations to the press, while not inaccurate, fail to adequately convey the delicate and extremely difficult process currently underway," he wrote.

Still, Lamberth said he would let the government and Balaran try and resolve the shutdown. But even if that happens, getting checks to thousands of beneficiaries might not be automatic, according to Spooner.

While Spooner said she believed an agreement could come at the end of this week or the beginning of the next, she said one of three systems necessary for processing payments has now been backlogged for six weeks. Unless the system is allowed to run 24 hours a day, she said, money to the IIM trust can't be properly accounted.

Robert E. Brown, a technical director at the Minerals Management Service, which operates the system in question, however, said in a sworn declaration that it could be operated on a discrete basis. Still, Spooner said the government was placing a firewall to protect the data from hackers.

According to Bill Roselius, an assistant to McCaleb, firewalls have been installed to protect the Integrated Resources Management System (IRMS). IRMS, the MMS system and the Trust Fund Accounting System (TFAS) are needed to make payments to IIM beneficiaries.

Get IT Reports:
First Status Report (1/15) | Report and Recommendations Regarding the Security of Trust Data (12/4)

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

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