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Interior solicitor calls for investigation into misconduct

WASHINGTON -- After the release of two court reports criticizing the federal government for misconduct in the ongoing case of Cobell vs. Norton, the Interior Department's head attorney is calling for an investigation into whether administration officials misled the court in the case involving billions of dollars in tribal trust funds.

The investigation, to focus on both Bush and Clinton officials, was requested by recently appointed Interior Solicitor William G. Myers III.

"There may be instances other than the court monitor's two reports in which allegations have been made that senior managers and attorneys of the department engaged in misconduct, which have not been fully investigated," Myers said.

In his request, Myers cites seven areas he would like investigated. Included are both areas cited by a court monitor in two reports issued this summer. The first report deals with the department's failure to conduct an historical accounting of money held in trust, and the second with findings that the government's Trust Asset and Accounting Management System, or TAAMS, a computer system developed by the government to handle trust accounts, is not working.

Myers asks that the inspector general specifically look into why former Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt recommended statistical sampling instead of an historical accounting, and why it was also initially supported by current Interior Secretary Gale Norton without conducting "an adequate review of Secretary Babbitt's decision."

The inspector general is being asked to examine whether federal officials misled the court about the success of TAAMS. In the court report, the monitor accuses Interior senior managers of providing misleading information which "created a record of opposition to and actions against the provision of open and honest communication to (the Court)".

Other areas cited include an investigation into whether Interior officials retaliated against an employee by ordering her reassignment from her office in Albuquerque, N.M., to Reston, Va., as well as questionable actions by government attorneys in the case.

"It is incumbent on us to assure that all such allegations are investigated, and appropriate action taken based on the results of the investigation, including a report thereon to the court," Myers said.

Earl E. Devaney, the department's inspector general, is expected to provide initial results of his investigation to the solicitor, the secretary of Interior, the special trustee for American Indians, and the assistant secretary for Indian affairs upon completion.

The federal government holds approximately $450 million in nearly 500,000 individual trust accounts. There are reportedly no records for more than $100 million of those dollars. In tribal trust accounts overall $2.4 billion still remains unreconciled.