Interior can't shake systems woes
- By Wilson P. Dizard III
- May 01, 2002
The Interior Department has restored 85 percent of its Web capability following a court order that severed the department's connections to the Internet to protect Indian trust accounts from computer hackers.
But the fallout from the Dec. 5, 2001, ruling lingers over the department.
Judge Royce C. Lamberth and the plaintiffs in the Indian trust class action suit, Cobell vs. Norton, have uncovered mismanagement of the Indian trust systems that left the court outraged at being 'duped' by Interior and Justice Department officials, according to documents from U.S. District Court in Washington.
Forty government employees, including attorneys and those responsible for systems decisions, face contempt of court charges, according to court records. Court-appointed overseers continue to find flaws in Interior's handling of the systems that track Indian funds.
The Interior Department declined to respond to repeated requests for comment on these matters.Sites restored
Over the past four and a half months, Interior has received permission from court-appointed special master Alan Balaran to reconnect the Bureau of Land Management, Bureau of Reclamation, Fish and Wildlife Service, Geological Survey, Minerals Management Service, National Fire Center, National Park Service and Office of Surface Mining to the Internet.
The restoration project has been overseen by Balaran, with assistance from IBM Corp., and has included the installation of firewalls around many Interior systems.
During closing arguments in Interior Secretary Gale Norton's contempt trial, Judge Lamberth summarized the events that led to the Internet cutoff.
Citing the lack of an audit trail for the Indian trust funds, Lamberth said, 'Anyone could have hacked in and created an account, as Predictive Systems [Inc. of New York] did at my direction, in effect, through the special master. Untold amounts of money could have disappeared from these accounts, and Interior today cannot tell us whether untold amounts of money disappeared or not.'
In the same hearing, after reviewing testimony that 80 percent of the risk of theft from the Indian trust accounts could have come from inside sources, Lamberth said, 'How a trustee can get into the position of allowing these systems to be totally at risk, both with insiders and outsiders, to create accounts and let money be pilfered from the beneficiaries, just almost boggles my mind.'
Some of Interior's most severe system problems involve the Trust Asset and Accounting Management System, which the department unveiled in 1999. TAAMS, created by Applied Terravision Systems Inc. of Calgary, Alberta, was intended to track title records, leases, timber sales and other trust asset records.Mixed formats
Launching TAAMS and loading data into it were complicated by the number of systems that contained relevant data'some of it 25 years old'and by the record formats, including paper files, according to court documents.
Also, contractor Electronic Data Systems Corp. identified several technical problems with the TAAMS project in a November 2001 report.
They included the risk that Interior's network infrastructure wouldn't be able to support TAAMS, that system testing teams lacked detailed test specifications, that TAAMS requirements changed constantly and weren't well controlled, and that Interior had not fully defined the extent of the work needed to clean up data to be entered into TAAMS.
Balaran reported that the department had not kept its promise to upgrade the confidentiality with which records were handled.
According to Balaran's report, 'Second Investigative Report of the Special Master Regarding the Office of Trust Records,' Interior had pledged in 2000 'to implement a unified records management solution for Interior trust records.'
But after reviewing the training program, Balaran found that it lacked special measures to protect the confidential records.
Interior has proposed creating a special, high-security group of databases for the trust accounts and records within the Bureau of Indian Affairs, by reprogramming fiscal 2003 funds.