Interior seeks help in Indian trust

Interior Department RFP

The Interior Department issued a request for proposals Feb. 21 for the development and implementation of a plan to conduct a historical accounting of individual American Indian trust accounts.

Vendors have until March 8 to respond to the RFP, which calls for the contractor to lend long-term support, analysis and expert advice from the perspective of handling a large commercial trust operation. The contract is expected to last three years.

The RFP came the same day the contempt trial of Interior Secretary Gale Norton ended in U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth's court.

A group of American Indians filed a class action lawsuit in 1996 alleging that mismanagement has made it impossible for landowners and their descendants to determine the balances in their accounts.

About 11 million acres are held in trust or restricted status for individual American Indians and nearly 45 million are held for tribes, according to Interior. The plaintiffs estimate there is as much as $10 billion in lost or missing funds.

In 1999, the court directed the agency to initiate a historical accounting project. Norton and Neal McCaleb, assistant secretary and director of the Bureau of Indian Affairs, face five contempt charges that include failure to comply with the order.

In July, Norton established the Office of Historical Trust Accounting to take charge of the matter.

OHTA, which issued the RFP, also has released a "Blueprint for Developing the Comprehensive Historical Accounting Plan for Individual Indian Money Accounts" and a "Report Identifying Preliminary Work for the Historical Accounting." The office is also working on a comprehensive plan to present to Congress for approval and long-term funding.

Interior requested a $9 million increase for accounting in its budget for fiscal 2003, but a full reconciliation is likely to cost hundreds of millions of dollars, Norton testified at a Feb. 6 hearing before the House Resources Committee.

"I do know [of] situations where the documents that existed no longer exist," she further testified Feb. 13 at her trial.

Meanwhile, much of Interior remains off-line since Lamberth ordered the department to disconnect from the Internet in December after a computer security firm broke into its systems.

However, the Bureau of Land Management's site (www.blm.gov) came back online this week.

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