Trust travails

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"Getting their due"

Even before the Interior Department launched the Trust Asset and Accounting Management System (TAAMS), the General Accounting Office predicted trouble. The two mainframe systems TAAMS would replace and rely on for data presented a complex problem. "According to [the department, these] two...systems are not integrated, have no electronic interfaces and duplicate much of the same information," GAO officials reported to Congress in September 2000.

Interior also faced a lack of unity within its organization. The Bureau of Indian Affairs "has a long history of decentralized management and, as a result, does not have clear and unified policies and procedures related to trust management," department Secretary Gale Norton testified to lawmakers in February. BIA's offices, spread across the United States, have tailored practices to the tribes and the individuals being served, Norton said. In other words, policy born in Washington, D.C., wasn't working in the field.

With TAAMS on the way out, Norton unveiled a plan in November 2001 to consolidate trust fund duties into a new agency. Tribal leaders panned it, prompting her to approve formation of a joint Interior/tribal leader task force to hash out an agreement. Both sides decided Congress should charter a commission to oversee the federal government's reform. After several promising meetings, however, they reached an impasse over management standards.

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