BIA's system upgrade lands at center of trust fund lawsuit

A Bureau of Indian Affairs systems chief has alleged that the bureau retaliated against her because she criticized a multimillion-dollar systems project.

By Tony Lee Orr

GCN Staff

A Bureau of Indian Affairs systems chief has alleged that the bureau retaliated against her because she criticized a multimillion-dollar systems project.

But bureau officials denied the allegations and said the woman is a disgruntled employee who did not want to move to Reston, Va., when BIA began relocating its data center from Albuquerque, N.M., this spring.

Mona Infield, a branch chief at the bureau's New Mexico data center, made her allegations in court documents in support of a four-year-old lawsuit filed by the Native Americans Rights Fund.

The fund wants a federal judge to determine how much money the government owes more than 300,000 American Indians from federally managed trust funds.

On the record

In a March affidavit filed with the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, Infield claimed that Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt and some midlevel managers targeted her because she had provided information for the lawsuit.

Infield declined to comment on the case.

In her affidavit, she stated that the Trust Assets Accounting Management System'deployed to centrally automate records pertaining to American Indian land managed by the federal government'suffered from poor management, slipshod security and lax data integrity.

Infield told the court that her bosses later moved the office to Reston to quiet employee complaints about TAAMS. Officials with the General Accounting Office and BIA said the National Academy of Public Administration suggested in an August 1999 study that the data center relocate near bureau headquarters.

BIA officials in December announced the plan to shutter the New Mexico facility and shift the bureau's data center operations east. The bureau began the move in late March, and it expects this fall to complete the transition to the Virginia facility.

Clean effort needed

It is the data cleanup techniques that attorneys for Elouise Pepoion Cobell, the named plaintiff in the fund's lawsuit, said they cannot abide. Although Infield's affidavit claims TAAMS has other flaws, Cobell's attorneys said they don't necessarily have a problem with the TAAMS system, just the integrity of the data and its importance to the fund's claim on BIA trust monies.

BIA chief information officer Dom Nessi, a former TAAMS project manager, acknowledged that the bureau has serious data integrity issues caused by decades of neglect by managers who failed to properly maintain data input techniques. Nessi, who began his job in April, is the bureau's first CIO.

'There were no upfront edits, no system auditing, no configuration management and no data integrity policies,' he said. 'This situation occurred over the past 30 years. And this work has to be done. But it isn't going to happen overnight.' But, Nessi added, TAAMS works and will improve data management at BIA.

In her statement, Infield said TAAMS was poorly planned, contractors without proper security clearances had access to classified information, and the move to Reston jeopardized critical information. In an e-mail document attached to her affidavit, she also attacked individual federal workers, including Nessi, whom she said did not have adequate experience to manage the TAAMS project.

Infield did not work for Nessi but was peripherally involved in the TAAMS project and sat in on numerous meetings.

Legal attacks have been launched on 17 midlevel federal systems workers, creating a frustrating work environment, Nessi said. Attorneys involved in the lawsuit against Babbitt have sent legal documents to federal workers' homes on weekends, upsetting family members, he said.

Interior and BIA officials are aware of initial development and oversight problems with TAAMS, Nessi said. GAO in April of last year criticized the bureau's implementation of TAAMS and concluded the project lacked management and needed further analysis [GCN, Sept. 13, 1999, Page 1]. The Interior inspector general has also reviewed the system and recommended changes.

BIA has worked to respond to these recommendations, Nessi said. GAO plans to release a follow-up report this week, and Nessi said he expects to see good things in the new review.

'When this is finally deployed, we will have one of the best title systems in America,' he said.

In her affidavit, however, Infield takes aim at the system, which replaces the bureau's Land Record Information System and the Integrated Records Management System, two legacy Cobol applications. LRIS is still running on some of the bureau's old IBM 3090 mainframes. IRMS is still in use, too, and runs on a Unisys Corp. ClearPath NX server.

For a TAAMS pilot in Billings, Mont., staff members used Pentium PCs to connect via a frame relay network to the revised BIA records application hosted on two IBM AS/400 servers at a Texas data center run by Applied Terra Vision Inc. of Dallas.

So far, the system has gone live at two additional bureau sites, in Anchorage, Alaska, and Anadarko, Okla. BIA will next deploy TAAMS at its Sacramento, Calif., office. The bureau estimates that the nationwide rollout will cost $60 million to $80 million and take four years.

Despite the deployment efforts, Infield maintained in her March 5 affidavit that TAAMS is a failure.

Following the filing of the Infield affidavit by Cobell's attorneys, the court initially issued a restraining order barring BIA from letting contractors access the systems' data until the bureau checked the security clearances of all contract employees. The agency spent the next 10 days approving security clearances, and the court then rescinded the restraining order.

Infield has not been at work since March 22, although she is still on BIA's payroll, bureau officials said. The bureau has granted her a leave of absence for health reasons.

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