Native American Press / Ojibwe News

April 25, 2003
Secretary Norton Under Fire:
Department of Interior’s Lack of Credibility Stretches to the Top


By Jean Pagano

Department of Interior (DOI) Secretary Gail Norton came under attack from two sides this week relating to the seven-year-old Cobell v Secretary of Interior lawsuit. This landmark case seeks an accounting of Individual Indian Money accounts held in trust by DOI. The Department of the Interior has allegedly mismanaged the 300,000 IIM accounts for over a century.

The first salvo in the barrage against Secretary Norton came from Democratic Representative Frank Pallone, Jr. from the 5th District in New Jersey. Pallone has asked Norton to “cease and desist from any further implementation of your trust reorganization” until U.S. District Judge Royce C. Lamberth has a chance to rule in early May. A trial has been ordered by Judge Lamberth starting on 1 May to evaluate trust reform plans presented to date and to decide upon a course of action for trust reform. Trust reform is required under the American Indian Trust Fund Management Reform Act.

Representative Pallone stated “It has recently been brought to my attention by tribal leaders that you are proceeding to reorganize the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) in the name of trust reform even though Indian Country is overwhelmingly opposed to your efforts.”

Pallone further states that he is concerned that Norton will waste further monies in implementing her plans for reform since the court and Judge Lamberth has not reviewed and approved her plans. Pallone joins a number of Representatives and Senators that have voiced concerns about the ongoing Cobell litigation. While some members of Congress are outright hostile to trust reform, others would like to see the Department of Interior and the Cobell defendants work out some compromise in the landmark case. A previous agreement, arrived at in the latter days of the Clinton Administration, was not acted upon when the Bush Administration arrived in Washington in 2001.

On a separate but similar front, court-appointed Special Master Alan L. Balaran presented the U.S. Court of Appeals his Interim Report Concerning DOI’s Eighth Quarterly Status Report on Trust Reform. In this 57-page document, Balaran claims supplemental authority in support of Judge Lamberth’s holding of Secretary Norton and former Assistant Secretary Neal McCaleb in civil contempt. Lamberth had held that both Norton and McCaleb had perpetrated a fraud on the court by their actions.

Balaran holds that a number of claims listed in the Eighth Quarterly Status Report are false and materially misleading and that Norton continues to deceive both the District and the Appellate Courts. The Status Report in question was released during Norton and McCaleb’s previous contempt trial.

Specifically, Balaran claims that Norton, as signatory of the Eighth Report, intentionally withheld information concerning problem with the automated Trust Assets and Accounting Management System (TAAMS) that was being developed at the time of the contempt trial. The Special Master believes that the problems with the system were hidden to cast DOI in a more favorable light during the contempt trial.

The TAAMS Project Team and NAID (an information technology, security, management, and training firm employed by DOI since 1999) had reported to DOI a number of problems, concerns, and issues during a High-Level Planning process, much to the chagrin of DOI. Concurrent with the TAAMS Project Team and NAID’s evaluation, Electronic Data Processing Systems (EDS) was also looking at the Trust Reform process. The conclusions arrived at by EDS differed from the TAAMS’ review and was ultimately the basis used to report findings in the Eighth Quarterly Status Report.

According to Balaran’s Interim Report, “The evidence reveals that EDS employed a flawed methodology resulting in reports that overlooked or diluted the informed findings of NAID and the TAAMS Project Team.” Judge Lamberth and the U.S. Appellate Court will most likely address the issue of DOI’s ongoing deception in the coming weeks. The Bush Administration has appealed Lamberth’s previous contempt ruling against Norton and McCaleb. McCaleb has since resigned his post as Assistant Secretary of Indian Affairs, claiming that the Cobell litigation made his job all but impossible.



 
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