BIA systems are in limbo

CIO Brian Burns is waiting for clearance to reactivate systems.

Laurie DeWitt

The Interior Department's Bureau of Indian Affairs is struggling to lay the foundation for a revamped IT infrastructure as it labors under a court order that has shut down virtually all its systems.

CIO Brian Burns is overseeing the effort to build an IT architecture for the agency and to bring BIA systems back online. U.S. District Judge Royce C. Lamberth ordered all Interior systems to be severed from the Internet last December because of security weaknesses that could affect the integrity of American Indian trust accounts.

Alan Balaran, a special master named by the court to oversee Interior's efforts to relaunch its system, has authorized the reconnection of almost all other agencies to the Internet. But parts of the Office of Surface Mining and all of BIA remain isolated from the Internet.

Burns said he could not predict when BIA systems would be restored. Some major subsystems recently were approved for reactivation following security upgrades. They include the Land Records Information System, the Integrated Resource Management System and Interior's Electronic Acquisition System, a procurement tool. Balaran also has cleared parts of the Trust Asset Accounting Management System (TAAMS) for reactivation.

Bureau employees now are able to communicate among themselves by e-mail, but their e-mail connection to the rest of the Internet remains cut off.

As a result of Judge Lamberth's December order, BIA still is processing some checks from the trust funds by hand. When systems for processing those checks receive clearance for reactivation, agency officials will have to conduct a reconciliation of the manual accounts and the computer system, officials said.

A new approach

'We support over 50 systems at BIA,' Burns said. The bureau's total IT budget runs to $40 million annually.

'We are looking to create an architecture that will give us an enterprise approach,' Burns added. The BIA section of the architecture will link upward to Interior and still farther up to e-government projects highlighted for interagency use by the Office of Management and Budget.

In the current stage of the architecture project, BIA officials are identifying security issues and defining the baseline of the systems that exist. 'We have a mix of mainframe systems, client-server and a very few Web-enabled systems,' Burns said.

Eventually, BIA plans to build a portal and provide BIA employees with private and secure Web access to agency data.

For the trust accounting systems, BIA officials will build a network called Trustnet to house and secure data. The bureau has hired Science Applications International Corp. to help solve its security problems. Electronic Data Systems Corp. received a contract to build parts of TAAMS.

Burns has been BIA's CIO since June. Before coming to Interior, he was deputy assistant secretary for information resources and deputy CIO at the Health and Human Services Department. In that position, his area of responsibility was systems for the Indian Health Service.

The plaintiffs in the Cobell vs. Norton trust lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia maintain that the trust accounts should be managed by a court-appointed receiver, who would take over the systems functions BIA now handles.

The view of many in Congress however, is simply that the government and the plaintiffs should settle the lawsuit and move on.

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