Court issues time out on Interior case

Interior Department

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The Interior Department received a court-ordered reprieve last night from conducting a full historical accounting of the Indian Trust fund.

The order issued by the U.S. Court of Appeals temporarily overrules the structural injunction issued in September by U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth in the case of Cobell v. Norton. Lamberth ruled Sept. 25 that Interior must complete a full historical accounting of the Indian trust fund, which dates back to 1887, by 2007.

Indian trust-related litigation against Interior is now in its seventh year, and has significantly affected the department's computer network. All systems related to Indian trust funds have been shut down, and many Interior employees remain without Internet or email services.

President Bush signed the Interior appropriations bill Nov. 10 that limits historical accounting and provides Congress time to look into the matter. Language in the appropriations bill stated that Interior would not be required to conduct the full historical accounting until Dec. 31, 2004, giving Congress an opportunity to amend the American Indian Trust Fund Management Reform Act of 1994.

According to the bill, Congress must specifically define Interior's obligations in the full accounting process.

The appropriations bill estimates that a full historical accounting would cost between $6 billion and $12 billion but limits historical accounting funds for fiscal 2004 to $45 million.

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