Still a disconnect at Interior

About 6 percent of the Interior Department's computer systems remain disconnected from the Internet, 11 months after a federal judge ordered a departmentwide shutdown citing security concerns, according to a Nov. 1 Interior report.

Most of the systems support the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the Office of the Special Trustee, agencies that rely on information technology to fulfill the department's trust fund duties.

"The relative security and integrity of DOI's computer systems is gradually improving," Interior officials said in their 11th status report to the court, one in a series of updates required by U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth.

This reporting period, July 1 through Sept. 30, saw little increase in Internet connectivity — a fact attributed to procurement and reconfiguration needs.

The department has awarded several contracts in recent months to vendors, including IBM Corp. and Zantaz Inc., aimed at bolstering information security. WorldCom Inc., meanwhile, has finished the technical design for TrustNet, a new secure network for Indian trust data. Testing and approval is pending fiscal 2003 funding.

Interior has held American Indian-owned lands in trust for more than 100 years, leasing the properties and processing revenue earned from farming, drilling and other exploits. A group of beneficiaries filed a class-action lawsuit in 1996, claiming that poor bookkeeping has prevented landowners and their descendants from determining their account balances. The plaintiffs estimate as much as $10 billion is lost or missing.

In September, Lamberth held Interior Secretary Gale Norton and Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs Neal McCaleb in contempt, finding them "unfit trustee delegates." 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. In the interim, the department has been assessing what systems exist so it can develop a comprehensive business model.

"System design is no longer centered on one all-encompassing asset management system," Interior officials wrote. "What is required is a series of software applications focusing on each aspect of the trust business. The goal of Indian trust systems is to integrate the separate applications into comprehensive software architecture that share necessary information across all applications to accomplish trust reform. The requirements and architectures will determine whether existing systems and technology should be used, integrated or replaced."

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