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BIA officials misled court, monitor says

WASHINGTON, D.C. - The court monitor to the U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., issued a report critical of the customized computer system designed to improve the Individual Indian Money account problems.

Joseph S. Kieffer III issued a second report to the court that accused the senior management of the Department of Interior and the BIA of misleading the court about the capability of the Trust Asset and Accounting Management System. The report was not only critical of the past administration, but because some of the same management is in place with the new administration, nothing has changed, the report stated.

"Presently, TAAMS is a system at risk and may not be salvageable," Kieffer wrote.

"All development activity beyond the current Title module in Billings and three other regional headquarters may need to be stopped pending an evaluation by DOI of what to do with further TAAMS modifications and systems management."

An overall review of the system is needed and the review may extend to other aspects of reform projects of the trust funds debacle, Keiffer added.

The report indicated that one-fifth or less of the system is ready for operation and that the software still requires modification and correction. Another critical point is the fact that some of the system users lack management experience to direct a major system and there is no realistic deployment schedule in place.

The report stated that Dom Nessi, the project manager, provided misleading information to the court about the operation of TAAMS. Nessi told the court the system was operational even though he and his team had been put on notice about conversion problems in the system.

The report, however, did let Nessi off the hook to some degree. It acknowledged that he relied on reports from the system's vendor about the company's ability to provide a capable system in a timely manner.

"Nessi had not conducted any competent examination of the status of data cleanup even with evidence that the data inputted into TAAMS was not operating with the software in a manner sufficient to give a level of confidence in its usability.

"Again, he put total reliance on the vendor's assurances," Keiffer said.

He wrote that at the time of the rollout of the system in Billings in June 1999, senior management officials knew of Nessi's limited ability with system management yet said nothing in testimony to the court that would indicate any problems with TAAMS.

"Nessi's briefing was a chimera of optimistic assumptions and pie-in-the-sky projections. However, the Interior defendants placed reliance on it in their arguments and pleadings presented to this court."

Keiffer said quarterly reports misled the court about the true status of the project. All the reports were written to show progress and positive events and to suppress negative results, while at the same time the system was failing. It wasn't until a new special trustee was appointed that a true picture of the system was shown in the quarterly reports, Keiffer stated.

Even with a new secretary of Interior, Gale Norton, under a new administration, the problem of exposing problems in the system may remain the same because some of the same management people with the same attitudes remain in place.

"If senior DOI and BIA managers and attorneys can ignore and attempt to circumvent a federal court's order, they could well frustrate a political appointee's direction," Keiffer said.

Secretary Norton issued a memorandum on trust reform that increased authority of the special trustee and put oversight of the BIA's trust reform activities in the hands of an outside authority.

Defendants in the class action lawsuit, Cobell vs Norton, have asked that additional trial procedures take place. The lawsuit represents some 300,000 Individual Indian Money account holders who claim to have lost millions of dollars in royalties, rent and fees over the years as a result of the lack of accounting procedures at the BIA.

A court monitor was appointed by U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth after past administration officials in Interior and the BIA were found in contempt of the court for not judiciously providing reports and documents requested by the court.

"The recently appointed Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs' cooperation with the Special Trustee and leadership of the BIA will be critical to assure (trust reform) is accomplished.

"The secretary's personal attention to the needs of trust reform and support of the special trustee's efforts will be paramount for ensuring the prospects for the success of trust reform in the future," Kieffer stated.