Indian trust model open for comment

Department of Interior

The Interior Department is accepting public comment on its updated reform effort to improve the management of American Indian trust funds.

Interior officials are working on a comprehensive effort to re-engineer the method by which bureaus and offices perform their trust responsibilities. They hope the reforms will bring improved services to trust beneficiaries.

The "To-Be" Trust Business Model is Interior's plan for increasing the efficiency of trust management and is the result of the department's "As-Is" study. The "As-Is" report documents the agency's performance of current trust business practices and serves as the foundation of the "To-Be" model.

According to the "As-Is" report, standardized business processes and modernized systems are nessary to meet customer, accounting and operational requirements.

The reform effort stems from the agency's Comprehensive Trust Management Plan, which defines Interior's responsibilities and strategies for trust reform. As a result of that plan, the department issued its "As-Is" report as a first step toward trust reform.

Interior officials held a series of meeting from November 2003 through January 2004 to provide updates and solicit recommendations from stakeholders for improving the "To-Be" business model.

Public citizens can access the plan at www.ost.doi.gov, the Web site for the agency's Office of the Special Trustee for American Indians, through March 31. An online response form is not available, but users can download a printable comment form for mailing.

The office is responsible for improving the accountability and management of Indian funds held in trust by the federal government. Interior has the primary fiduciary responsibility to manage tribal trust funds and Individual Indian Monies accounts, as well as the resources that generate the income for those accounts.

In the Cobell v. Norton lawsuit that has waged for seven years, plaintiffs have attempted to force Interior to conduct a full historical accounting of the Indian trust funds, back to 1887. However, the 2004 Interior appropriations bill, signed by President Bush on Nov. 10, 2003, stated that Interior would not be required to conduct the historical accounting until Dec. 31, 2004.

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