Court chooses watchdog for Indian trust reform effort

A federal judge has appointed a monitor to track the Interior Department's American Indian trust reform efforts, a troubled process in which a customized computer system plays a prominent role.

U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth on April 16 appointed Joseph Keiffer III to monitor the department's reform progress and report back to the court for at least a year. The appointment was in response to a lawsuit filed by American Indian groups regarding the mismanagement of American Indian trust funds.

The lawsuit's plaintiffs and Interior agreed to Keiffer's post, which will be located in Interior itself.

"We welcome the appointment of an independent monitor, and we view it as constructive to accomplishing our goals, which are a renewed effort to advance trust fund reform," Interior spokeswoman Stephanie Hanna said.

Keiffer previously served as director of litigation for the Manville Personal Injury Settlement Trust.

Interior administers the government's trust responsibilities for American Indians and native Alaskans, including about $3 billion in trust funds and 54 million acres of Indian lands. The department has been accused of losing billions of dollars in Indian assets.

The department lost an initial trial covering trust reform in 1999 and an appeal earlier this year. Now it is under close scrutiny to implement reforms. The court had already appointed a special master to oversee orders for Interior and the Justice Department to produce documents related to the litigation.

A major component of Interior's trust reform relies on installing a computer system — the Trust Asset Accounting and Management System (TAAMS) — to keep track of land titles and leases, as well as work with the department's already- deployed Trust Fund Accounting System.

TAAMS has come under fire from Congress, the General Accounting Office and the lawsuit's plaintiffs as unworkable.

Geoffrey Rempel, an accountant working for the plaintiffs in the lawsuit, said Keiffer likely will take a close look at TAAMS. "We anticipate that one of his primary focuses will be TAAMS — and how it doesn't work," Rempel said.

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