Hill slams Interior's trust fund system

Senators, trust fund experts and American Indians last week blasted an Interior Department plan to spend as much as $60 million on a new computer system to track and compensate American Indians for commercial mining on Indian property and leases of tribal land. Interior acknowledges that it has poo

Senators, trust fund experts and American Indians last week blasted an Interior Department plan to spend as much as $60 million on a new computer system to track and compensate American Indians for commercial mining on Indian property and leases of tribal land.

Interior acknowledges that it has poorly managed Indian trust fund accounts - a complicated amalgam of real estate titles, bank accounts and leasing contracts - since the trust fund program was set up by Congress in 1887 to deal with leases on nearly 54 million acres of land owned by American Indians. The system used to track, collect and disburse payments has been accused of losing billions of dollars owed to American Indians.

Interior is seeking about $100 million in fiscal 2000 for trust reform. The department wants to use some of the money to pay for a new system called the Trust Asset and Accounting Management System to better manage the trust funds. However, a General Accounting Office study released last week concluded that TAAMS is inadequate, so GAO recommended Interior undertake an exhaustive analysis of the problems that have crippled the trust fund system before spending millions of dollars on information technology.

Donald Gray, a San Francisco lawyer who specializes in setting up commercial trusts, told a joint hearing of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee and the Energy and Natural Resources Committee that a "clueless" Interior should not be given responsibility to set up the trust.

"You should not and cannot try to operate on yourself," Gray said. "What's missing here is first you have to sit down and think. You can't just go out and buy a software system."

A pilot version of the system was unveiled last month in Montana and will be tested for several months. Following the test, the department will decide whether to recommend deploying TAAMS to manage the roughly 350,000 trust funds in the system, which together are worth an estimated $3 billion, according to the department.

Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell (R-Colo.), chairman of the Indian Affairs Committee, said Interior "is in a state of denial" about the gravity of the problems with the trust fund system and with TAAMS' ability to correct the flaws and deliver a working management system.

"It would seem to me that one of the first steps is admitting you've got a hell of a problem," Campbell said.

Mark Fox, vice chairman of the Three Affiliated Tribes of the Fort Berthold Reservation in North Dakota and chairman of the Intertribal Monitoring Association on Indian Trust Funds, testified that the department should go ahead with paying for TAAMS. But he also said an independent board should be set up to oversee the management of trust funds.

"Experts have determined that the plan the department is proposing is seriously flawed and is likely to result in developing systems that will fail to meet trust standards," Fox said. "For that reason, [the Intertribal Monitoring Association] has concluded that it is imperative that the overall control of trust reform be placed under the authority of an independent entity."

He said that "it would be a big mistake to trust the department" to put together a working management system because nobody with extensive trust experience is involved in TAAMS.

Campbell said he and Sen. Frank Murkowski (R-Alaska) authored a bill that would put building the new system into the hands of the private sector. It is unlikely, however, that President Clinton would sign the bill, Campbell said.

No one from Interior testified at the hearing because the department is in the midst of a trial involving the trust funds, according to a statement from Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt.

In the statement, however, Babbitt said GAO's recommendation that the department stop pursuing TAAMS "was unacceptable to me."

"The realities of our current situation - significantly outdated trust management systems, a need to make corrections as quickly as possible and limited trained and experienced personnel - have called for an accelerated approach to the TAAMS project to ensure its success," Babbitt said.

NEXT STORY: Missouri launches teacher training

X
This website uses cookies to enhance user experience and to analyze performance and traffic on our website. We also share information about your use of our site with our social media, advertising and analytics partners. Learn More / Do Not Sell My Personal Information
Accept Cookies
X
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Do Not Sell My Personal Information

When you visit our website, we store cookies on your browser to collect information. The information collected might relate to you, your preferences or your device, and is mostly used to make the site work as you expect it to and to provide a more personalized web experience. However, you can choose not to allow certain types of cookies, which may impact your experience of the site and the services we are able to offer. Click on the different category headings to find out more and change our default settings according to your preference. You cannot opt-out of our First Party Strictly Necessary Cookies as they are deployed in order to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting the cookie banner and remembering your settings, to log into your account, to redirect you when you log out, etc.). For more information about the First and Third Party Cookies used please follow this link.

Allow All Cookies

Manage Consent Preferences

Strictly Necessary Cookies - Always Active

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data, Targeting & Social Media Cookies

Under the California Consumer Privacy Act, you have the right to opt-out of the sale of your personal information to third parties. These cookies collect information for analytics and to personalize your experience with targeted ads. You may exercise your right to opt out of the sale of personal information by using this toggle switch. If you opt out we will not be able to offer you personalised ads and will not hand over your personal information to any third parties. Additionally, you may contact our legal department for further clarification about your rights as a California consumer by using this Exercise My Rights link

If you have enabled privacy controls on your browser (such as a plugin), we have to take that as a valid request to opt-out. Therefore we would not be able to track your activity through the web. This may affect our ability to personalize ads according to your preferences.

Targeting cookies may be set through our site by our advertising partners. They may be used by those companies to build a profile of your interests and show you relevant adverts on other sites. They do not store directly personal information, but are based on uniquely identifying your browser and internet device. If you do not allow these cookies, you will experience less targeted advertising.

Social media cookies are set by a range of social media services that we have added to the site to enable you to share our content with your friends and networks. They are capable of tracking your browser across other sites and building up a profile of your interests. This may impact the content and messages you see on other websites you visit. If you do not allow these cookies you may not be able to use or see these sharing tools.

If you want to opt out of all of our lead reports and lists, please submit a privacy request at our Do Not Sell page.

Save Settings
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Cookie List

A cookie is a small piece of data (text file) that a website – when visited by a user – asks your browser to store on your device in order to remember information about you, such as your language preference or login information. Those cookies are set by us and called first-party cookies. We also use third-party cookies – which are cookies from a domain different than the domain of the website you are visiting – for our advertising and marketing efforts. More specifically, we use cookies and other tracking technologies for the following purposes:

Strictly Necessary Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Functional Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Performance Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Social Media Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Targeting Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.