Further Indian trust appeal dropped

The Bush administration has decided not to appeal to the Supreme Court a judge's decision, upheld on appeal, that found the government in violation of its American Indian trust management responsibilities.

Administration officials had until May 25 — 90 days after an initial appeal was rejected — to request that the Supreme Court take up the case, but they let the deadline pass.

In December 1999, a District Court Judge Royce Lamberth sided with the plaintiffs in a class-action lawsuit designed to initiate trust fund reform and provide an accurate accounting of American Indians' trust money. Lamberth found that the Interior and Treasury departments had not fulfilled their obligations to trust beneficiaries and ordered massive court oversight to ensure that the departments reform themselves.

The government appealed, but in February a three-judge panel unanimously upheld the lower court's ruling. Another trial will determine how much money the government owes to about 500,000 trust beneficiaries, which has been estimated to be billions of dollars.

Stephanie Hanna, an Interior spokesman, said Interior officials recommended to the Justice Department not to pursue further appeals. She did not know what Treasury leaders had advised.

Hanna said Interior officials didn't recommend appealing to the Supreme Court because they are satisfied with the appellate judges' finding that their agency "should take the lead" in trust reform, she said.

The trust funds originate from parcels of land Indians were allowed to keep when the government carved up reservations in the late 1800s. The government kept the land titles and was supposed to manage any money the lands generated through gas extraction, mining, grazing or other activities. However, years of mismanagement left Interior and Treasury unable to provide an accurate accounting.

Information technology plays a major role in Interior's High-Level Implementation Plan to clean up trust management. The plan includes 11 trust reform projects, including the conversion of financial data to a new Trust Funds Accounting System and the creation of the Trust Asset Accounting Management System to replace earlier asset management systems.

Hanna said the government's decision not to appeal doesn't affect reform efforts under way, including TFAS and TAAMS. "Computer systems would not be altered at all," she said. "We're working hard to go forward with trust reform efforts."

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