Norton dodges questions on Internet shutdown
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Secretary of Interior Gale Norton had little progress to report to lawmakers on Wednesday, saying her department still remained crippled two months into a court-ordered Internet shutdown.

In fact, Norton couldn't even remember when she first became aware of the security holes that led to the disconnect in the first place. Under direct and heated questioning from members of the House Resources Committee, she was evasive about the exact role she played.

"I don't recall when I first heard about these issues," she said.

Facing an uphill battle to convince a federal judge she should not be held in contempt for the dismal state of her information technology systems, Norton's selective memory was probably a legal ploy more than anything else. U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth has warned her defense team that a scathing court report detailing numerous vulnerabilities in systems that house or provide access to individual Indian trust data is, on its face, enough to sanction her.

But to lawmakers whose constituents have gone without critical funds since November, the silence was chilling. "I can't understand how this could have happened," said Rep. Tom Udall (R-N.M.), who represents a large number of Navajo Nation tribal members.

"When you have 400 people show up to a [Navajo] chapter meeting," he said, "it's a huge deal, and now, the checks aren't going out."

Norton admitted that 90 percent of her systems still remain off-line. She said Associate Deputy Secretary James Cason has been working "night and day" to resolve the shutdown.

Yet lawmakers seemed agitated and many members of an overflow crowd who spilled into a second room shook their heads in disbelief with Norton's description of the problem. "We saw no alternative but to shut down every aspect of our system," she said.

Failing to answer whether her attorneys knew the shutdown would hurt Indian Country, Norton also could not provide details about the monetary impact on tribal members. Assistant Secretary Neal McCaleb added that it was hard to "quantify" the effect.

"A whole of people are suffering a huge amount of pain," said Rep. Chris Cannon (R-Utah).

Norton reiterated that her department anticipates spending between $65 million to $70 million over the next three years to meet federal computer standards. But she also said officials are only at the "initial" stage of planning.

McCaleb said in an interview after the hearing that the Bureau of Indian Affairs will be getting a new chief information officer soon. Former CIO Dom Nessi left abruptly last summer, just as hackers were breaking into the Individual Indian Money (IIM) system.

McCaleb, who decided to move the position to his home state of Oklahoma, said several people applied for the job. The CIO reports to his office.

Today on Indianz.Com:
Dog and pony show moves to Congress (2/7)

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

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