Interior looking for outside help

Nearly four months after unveiling its plan to account for money owed to American Indians, the Interior Department is looking for outside help.

Interior's Office of Historical Trust Accounting issued a request for proposals Oct. 25 through GovWorks on FedBizOpps.gov, seeking expert knowledge and historical research.

The massive bookkeeping project is an outgrowth of the American Indian Trust Fund Management Reform Act of 1994, which mandates that the department keep track of all funds held in trust for American Indians.

U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth directed Interior to initiate an accounting in 1999 - three years after five landowners filed a class-action lawsuit on behalf of 500,000 individual Indian trust beneficiaries, alleging that as much as $10 billion is lost or missing because of federal mismanagement, including a failed computer system.

Interior Secretary Gale Norton established the Office of Historical Trust Accounting in July 2001 to handle the matter. The following February, the department issued an RFP for the development and implementation of a plan to conduct an individual accounting, which it later said would cost $2.4 billion and would take several years to complete. In June, the project was expanded to include a tribal accounting, according to the latest solicitation.

The office expects to award a one-year contract with two optional year-long extensions to one or more parties for support, research, analysis and documentation services. Proposals are due Nov. 12.

As a result of treaties conducted in the 19th century, Interior holds about 11 million acres in trust or restricted status for individual American Indians, and nearly 45 million for tribes. The department is responsible for leasing the lands and paying revenues to individual and tribal accounts.

Finding them "unfit trustee-delegates," Lamberth held the Office of the Secretary of the Interior in contempt in September. Interior officials must submit a revised strategy for trust reform to the U.S. court by Jan. 6, 2003. The trial resumes May 1, 2003.

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