Interior shifts top systems officials

The Interior Department has shuffled IT leadership temporarily as it continues the task of untangling problems with American Indian trust data and focuses on new homeland security demands.

Interior CIO Darryl White is on detail as acting CIO at the Bureau of Reclamation. Hord Tipton, CIO of the Bureau of Land Management, is on detail in White's post.

In the temporary posts, White is assisting the Bureau of Reclamation on critical homeland security issues and Tipton is handling department IT needs, Interior spokesman John Wright said.

'The reason for the two details is to best utilize the talent of our senior executives,' Wright said.

In a separate move, Interior has named Brian P. Burns, formerly deputy assistant secretary and deputy CIO of the Health and Human Services Department, as the Bureau of Indian Affairs' CIO, succeeding acting CIO Debbie Clark.

The vulnerability of the department's information systems has been an issue of dispute for years. Most recently, in December, U.S. District Judge Royce C. Lamberth demanded that the department sever all system links to the Internet.
Most of the department's Internet links have been restored, but some parts of BIA remain offline.

White and other senior Interior IT officials in recent weeks have given depositions to Alan Balaran, the special master Lamberth appointed to oversee Interior's IT security and other matters related to a lawsuit brought by American Indian trust beneficiaries over problems with Interior's asset accounting. Balaran is preparing a report based on the depositions.

Meanwhile, plaintiffs in the Indian trust case have renewed their requests to Lamberth to cut off the Office of Surface Mining's Internet connection on the grounds that its computers still hold unsecured Indian trust fund data. The court has not ruled on the motion.

Separately, Interior's Office of Historical Trust Accounting submitted a report to Congress describing its plans to re-create accounts for individual trust assets. Interior proposed a multibillion-dollar overhaul.

Interior has maintained the trustee accounts since 1887; there are now 4 million owners with interest in 10 million acres of American Indian land. The department estimated that it has collected about $13 billion in its role as trustee.

The department has proposed that it examine 44.5 million trust transactions to generate proper accounting records.

The report pegged the cost of examining the records at $35 per transaction, for a total project cost of $2.4 billion.

External influences

But Congress is reluctant to appropriate hundreds of millions of dollars for the project.

'The full reconciliation of both current and former ... accounts is an enormously complicated, complex, controversial and costly initiative,' according to the Interior report. 'Ultimately, Interior's historical accounting activities will depend on further direction as may be provided by the courts, other actions by Congress or administrative action.'

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