Interior accounts for trust reform

The Bush administration is asking for $10.6 billion for the Interior Department in fiscal 2003 — a $300 million increase — with more money directed to American Indian trust reform.

Overall, the budget proposal includes $671.6 million in IT spending — about a $44 million increase.

The request provides $83.6 million to meet the mandates of a U.S. District Court in the case of Cobell v. Norton, class action litigation being fought on behalf of Indian trust beneficiaries.

"For decades, Indian trust funds have lacked modern accounting systems, reliable management systems and effective financial control systems," the budget document says.

In December, U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth shut down Interior's Internet connection after computer security firm Predictive Systems Inc. broke into departmental systems and reportedly cut a check from funds held in trust.

The agency expects to spend $65 million on upgrades, security and getting back online, according to Frank Quimby, a spokesman for Interior.

"We continue to work on it," Quimby said.

Two agencies with trust management duties, the Office of the Special Trustee for American Indians and the Bureau of Indian Affairs, each received a boost in funding.

The budget request includes $161 million for OST to complete such tasks as implementing modern land title, leasing and accounting systems, addressing backlogs and improving IT security. It also proposes $153 million for BIA to expand trust operations.

The Mineral Management Service, another player in trust management, received a $13.7 million increase, with $6 million set aside to develop systems.

Not all IT funds are going to trust management, however. The budget request includes $6 million for the National Biological Information Infrastructure (www.nbii.gov), which enhances access to data on the nation's biological resources. The amount of data on the site is projected to more than double by 2003.

Overall, the agency received low marks for its e-government initiatives. The administration found that Interior places large amounts of public money at high risk and fails to comply with the Paperwork Reduction Act and the Clinger-Cohen Act, which requires agencies to reform IT policies and establish enterprise architectures.

"Due to problems with its tribal trust accounting, DOI cannot provide assurances that its trust management systems and internal controls meet federal standards," the president's management "scorecard" says.

Interior has hired a contractor to assess its IT and make recommendations, which are due in June.

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