Interior shuffles BIA, adds tech division

Department of Interior

The Interior Department is adding an information technology division that it expects will significantly improve the Bureau of Indian Affairs' management problems.

BIA's massive reorganization is a major component of Interior's plan for addressing long-standing problems of tracking and distributing royalty checks to more than 300,000 American Indians.

U.S. District Court Judge Royce Lamberth, citing security concerns, ordered Interior to disconnect from the Internet in December 2001 to protect data maintained under the Trust Asset and Accounting Management System. Since then, most of the department has gone back online, but BIA remains disconnected.

Interior officials have not set a start-up date for the Division of Special Information Technology Services, but the agency has already started advertising for newly created IT management positions. The reorganization will occur over the next few years, starting with BIA's central office employees on Oct. 5.

Consolidating IT workers under a single division will improve the bureau's IT management, agency officials said.

"We think it is crucial to have not only a consolidated but exceptional IT world, and we think this is the way to do it," said Jerry Gidner, chief of staff to the assistant secretary for Indian affairs. "We want to make sure everybody's doing things the same way."

Three major areas for realignment are: the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs, BIA and the Office of the Special Trustee for American Indians.

"Our new structure will allow Interior a better way of doing business," said Interior Secretary Gale Norton. "I believe our reorganization will greatly enhance the services we provide to these beneficiaries."

As part of the reshuffling, the Division of Special IT Services falls under the authority of the newly created deputy assistant secretary for information resources management/chief information officer, a position Brian Burns fills.

Burns' position is one of four deputy assistant positions that are now part of Interior's revised plan. The others are a principal deputy assistant secretary, deputy assistant secretary for policy and economic development, and deputy assistant secretary for management.

"The department is moving toward using the same technology, and this division ties into that," Gidner said. "There's a lot of work to do on the data systems, but we just think consolidating makes a lot of sense."

Interior presented the reorganization plan to Washington, D.C.-area BIA staff June 27. During this meeting, several employees raised concerns about the new system.

The chief concern was that Interior gives preference to American Indians during the hiring process for newly created positions. Several employees indicated a strong desire for Interior to promote internally and to target American Indian colleges in recruiting for additional staff.

Norton stressed that no reduction in workforce would result from the reorganization.

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