Interior's smart move

One of the outcomes of the 1990s' procurement reforms was to give information technology managers the freedom, and the political cover, to as quickly and painlessly as possible pull the plug on IT programs that were not working. IT managers at the Interior Department have done just that for a troubled financial system. They should be commended for doing so, but there's still work to do.

For four years, the Bureau of Indian Affairs has been trying to piece together a network that would track the $1 billion the agency collects and pays to American Indians for the use of land the U.S. government has held in trust for tribes. But the system, called the Trust Asset and Accounting Management System (TAAMS), has run into numerous problems and now plays a major role in a class-action lawsuit filed by a group of American Indian trust beneficiaries. The group claims it is owed as much as $10 billion because of financial mismanagement.

Interior officials have made the decision to scrap TAAMS, as it was originally envisioned, and begin looking for other solutions. It's a good move. Tribes have complained that they were not consulted about the development of the system and that it didn't meet many of their needs.

Now Interior IT managers are trying a different tack. Last month, they visited the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community reservation in Arizona to look at a system the tribe there developed to manage its leases and payments. Interior officials say they will be talking to numerous groups, including vendors, to see what might work. This process was what procurement reformers envisioned years ago: Jettison those IT projects that are not working and look outside government for solutions that meet government needs.

That process requires listening and talking to users, in this case American Indians. By doing so, Interior managers can make the first steps toward improving relationships with American Indians and increase the chances of developing a system or systems that meet their financial needs and those of the tribes.

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