Auditors: Interior should set schedule for trust systems rollout

The Interior Department should adopt a firm timetable for system upgrades that support congressionally mandated reforms of the trust funds it manages on behalf of American Indians, according to a Government Accountability Office report released today.

Interior’s Office of the Special Trustee, established by the American Indian Trust Fund Reform Act of 1994, has been developing a new trust fund accounting system. Much of the systems development work will be complete by November, according to GAO.

Together with the Bureau of Indian Affairs, the special trustee’s office now is validating the data that stands behind American Indian land title records and leases that generate income for trust beneficiaries.

However, auditors reported that the trustee office “estimates that data verification for leasing activities will not be completed until December 2009.” Only after the data is verified can the trustee office move ahead to launch “trust fund operations, trust records management and appraisal services.” GAO said.

The law requires that when the special trustee office completes its work, it must be dissolved within 180 days.

GAO recommended that Interior provide Congress with a firm timetable for completing the accounting system upgrade and develop a work force plan for staff levels and funding needs after the system is built.

Interior provided written comments on the GAO report that agreed with the recommendations.

The special trustee office manages about $2.9 billion in assets on behalf of some 250 tribes and “tribal entities,” GAO said, as well as overseeing $400 million in individual American Indian trust accounts. Between 1997 and 2006, the trustee office staff increased from about 245 to 590 employees, and total funding grew from $34.1 million to $222.8 million, the report said.

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