Interior withheld info on TAAMS

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"Getting their due"

The Interior Department withheld information from a federal judge detailing problems with a computer program that has taken center stage in the trust fund controversy, according to new findings.

The Trust Asset and Accounting Management System (TAAMS) was designed to replace two Interior legacy systems used to distribute royalty checks to more than 300,000 American Indians. The department's inability to account for the fees that oil and gas companies, ranchers, farmers and other businesses pay beneficiaries annually and to build TAAMS has resulted in a multibillion-dollar lawsuit.

Interior presented "a gilded portrait of TAAMS" in its eighth status report to the court, one in a series of updates required by U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth, Special Master Alan Balaran wrote in an interim report, released April 21.

In September 2002, Lamberth found Interior Secretary Gale Norton and former Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs Neal McCaleb in contempt for, among other things, "failing to disclose the true status" of TAAMS.

In the eighth report, which covered Aug. 1, 2001, through Dec. 31, 2001, Interior substituted findings generated by contractor EDS for those provided by contractor Native American Indian Distributors Inc. and the TAAMS project team that criticized the system, according to Balaran.

As a result, the report "did not convey 'a clear and independent picture of trust reform,'" he concluded. "It represented, instead, a collaborative effort by two organizations with ulterior motives. For EDS, the motive was to persuade Interior to buy more EDS. For Interior, it was to avoid liability at all costs. In the view of the special master, neither organization acted in the best interest of the public or the court. They certainly were not acting in the best interest of the beneficiaries."

During the eighth reporting period, Lamberth ordered Interior to disconnect from the Internet to protect data maintained under TAAMS, citing security concerns. Some of the department remains off-line and, consequently, under his watch.

Balaran, a court-appointed investigator, continues to track potential breaches with the system.

The next phase of the trial will begin May 1.

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