Interior to seek injunction suspension

Officials at the Interior Department expect court action this week on their request to suspend last week's court injunction that paralyzed IT operations.

Interior officials are expected to respond as early as today to seek a stay of the injunction, pending an appeal, from the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. But observers believe that because Royce Lamberth is the same judge who handed down the injunction that disconnected the agency's Internet, Interior is not likely to get relief.

Agency officials must return to the court that issued the injunction before filing an appeal. Observers anticipate that they will go to appeals court at some point this week. Last year, the appeals court overturned Lamberth's 2002 ruling, in which he found Interior Secretary Gale Norton and Assistant Interior Secretary Neil McCaleb in contempt of court.

As Interior officials work with the Justice Department to craft a response to the injunction, members of Congress have begun to weigh in on the ruling.

Agency spokesman Dan Dubray said he understood that there had been contact with the department from the Senate Indian Affairs Committee and the House Resources Committee, as well as concern from congressional leaders.

Last week, Lamberth ruled in Cobell v. Norton that Interior had failed to protect American Indian trust funds from hackers, and therefore had to disconnect nine of its agencies from the Internet.

Although Dubray described the agency's current situation as "pretty much static," he said some members of the key committees "are concerned" about American Indian students' Internet access, the department's ability to take public comments online and Web resources for national parks.

The Internet suspension affects thousands of students at approximately 180 schools operated by the Bureau of Indian Affairs. Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) whose state has a substantial American Indian population, last week sent a blistering letter to Norton that blamed her organization for the problem.

"More specifically, your department's lack of responsiveness to the court in the trust case is now denying Native American elementary and high school students in South Dakota and across the country access to the Internet and has inhibited numerous agencies within [Interior] from effectively accomplishing their mission," Daschle wrote.

Agencies disconnected from the Internet include the Bureau of Indian Affairs, Bureau of Land Management, Bureau of Reclamation, Office of Surface Mining, the Office of the Special Trustee for American Indians, Minerals Management Services, Office of the Inspector General, Fish and Wildlife Service, and the National Business Center. Last week's ruling marks the third such action against the Interior since 2001.

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