Court raps Interior on American Indian trust system

The attorney appointed by U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth to oversee the Interior Department's efforts to overhaul its Indian trust fund accounting systems charged that the department and its contractor collaborated to hide flaws in the system.

Special master Alan Balaran's report released yesterday said the department withheld information about the Trust Assets and Accounting Management System when it filed a mandatory report with the court in January of last year.

The department did so "to conceal infirmities in the TAAMS system and misleading and inaccurate representations in previous quarterly submissions," Balaran noted.

Security flaws in Interior's systems for tracking American Indian trust funds prompted Lamberth in December 2001 to order Interior to disconnect almost all its systems from the Internet. Interior has restored most of its Internet links, but the Bureau of Indian Affairs remains offline.

In the new report, Balaran said the department's submissions to the courts "were contrived to present a gilded portrait of the TAAMS system and avoid adverse consequences arising from contempt proceedings pending at the time."

Last September, Lamberth found Interior secretary Gale Norton and former assistant secretary for Indian affairs Neal McCaleb in contempt of court in connection with the seven-year-old lawsuit.

Balaran also questioned the behavior of Interior's contractor, EDS Corp.: The January 2001 report "represented a collaborative effort by two organizations with ulterior motives. For EDS, the motive was to persuade Interior to buy more EDS. For Interior, it was to avoid liability at all costs."

"We are trying to track down the report. Until we see a copy of the report we can't comment," an EDS spokesman said.

Interior spokesman Dan Dubray said the department is reviewing the report and would not have a response for the media. Interior's response will be "in the context of the court," he said.

Balaran said Interior and EDS failed to act in the best interest of the public, court and trust fund beneficiaries.

The plaintiffs in the litigation are seeking $137 billion in compensation from the government. Members of Congress, including Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell (R-Colo.), have pressed unsuccessfully for the parties to negotiate settlement.

(Updated 4:52 p.m. April 22, 2003)

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