Court raps Interior, EDS over Indian trust system

The attorney appointed by U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth to oversee the Interior Department's overhaul of its American Indian trust fund accounting systems charged that the department and its contractor collaborated to hide the system's flaws.

Special master Alan Balaran's report released last month said the department withheld information about the Trust Assets and Accounting Management System when it filed a mandatory report with the court in January 2001.

The department did so 'to conceal infirmities in the TAAMS system and misleading and inaccurate representations in previous quarterly submissions,' Balaran noted.

Security flaws in Interior's systems for tracking American Indian trust funds prompted Lamberth in December 2001 to order Interior to disconnect almost all its systems from the Internet. Interior has restored most of its Internet links, but the Bureau of Indian Affairs remains offline.
In the new report, Balaran said the department's submissions to the courts 'were contrived to present a gilded portrait of the TAAMS system and avoid adverse consequences arising from contempt proceedings pending at the time.'

Last September, Lamberth found Interior secretary Gale Norton and former assistant secretary for Indian affairs Neal McCaleb in contempt of court in connection with the seven-year-old lawsuit. The plaintiffs are seeking more than $137 billion in compensation from the government.

Contractor criticized

Balaran also questioned the behavior of Interior's contractor, EDS Corp. The January 2001 report 'represented a collaborative effort by two organizations with ulterior motives,' he wrote. 'For EDS, the motive was to persuade Interior to buy more EDS. For Interior, it was to avoid liability at all costs.'

According to Balaran, Interior consistently worked to substitute informed, critical and detailed findings by contractor Native American Indian Distributors Inc. of Upper Marlboro, Md., and the joint federal/contractor TAAMS Project Team about the accounting system's weaknesses with misleading reports from EDS.

Balaran charged that 'Interior's decision to substitute the unsupportable findings of an organization [EDS] with a fledgling grasp of the TAAMS system for the expert findings of NAID and the TAAMS Project Team was not inadvertent.' Interior repeatedly worked to suppress findings by NAID and the TAAMS Project Team that EDS reports on the system were misleading, according to Balaran. 'We are trying to track down the report. Until we see a copy of the report we can't comment,' an EDS spokesman said.

Interior spokesman Dan Dubray said the department is reviewing the report and would not have a response for the media. Interior's response will be 'in the context of the court,' he said.

Balaran said Interior and EDS failed to act in the best interest of the public, court and trust fund beneficiaries.

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