Memo slams Interior accounting

The Interior Department's accounting system isn't up to the task of trust reform, according to an internal memo.

"The...database is plagued by missing records, unreliable information, severe security deficiencies and unverifiable audit trails," said John Miller, deputy special trustee for policy, in a draft memorandum to Special Trustee Thomas Slonaker received April 19.

Interior has held American Indian-owned lands in trust for more than 100 years, leasing the properties and processing revenues earned from farming and drilling.

"The major problem is that after five years, we do not have a system that can fulfill the fiduciary responsibility now or in the future, much less account for the past," Miller said.

A group of American Indians filed a class-action lawsuit in 1996, claiming that poor bookkeeping has made it impossible for landowners and their descendants to determine their account balances. The plaintiffs estimate that lost or missing funds total as much as $10 billion.

Miller recommended that Interior preserve old records and design a new trust asset management system. "Since there is now no uniformity, the development should be driven by existing software and expediency," he said. "Then people must be required to use it."

Meanwhile, the General Accounting Office informed Interior last week that it couldn't provide certified account balances as requested.

"GAO did not settle the [individual Indian money] accounts, and we are not aware of any record of certified balances of those accounts," said GAO General Counsel Anthony Gamboa in an April 19 letter.

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