Interior's IT woes worsen; Norton found in contempt

A federal judge last week found Interior secretary Gale Norton and assistant secretary for Indian Affairs Neal McCaleb in contempt of court and faulted them for failing to fix systems that manage trust fund accounts for American Indians.

Judge Royce C. Lamberth of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia charged the two with four counts of fraud against the court and one count of litigation misconduct. The ruling came in the long-running case of Cobell v. Norton.

Last December, Lamberth ordered the Interior Department to disconnect nearly all its systems from the Internet because of security flaws that jeopardized the trust funds. Some department systems closely related to trust accounting remain disconnected from the Internet, although Interior has been gradually restoring Net services with the approval of a court-appointed security reviewer.

Lamberth said that the officials had acted 'disgracefully' by failing to fix the accounting systems or submit honest reports about efforts to build the Trust Asset and Accounting Management System and clean up data at the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

The department scored a minor victory in the decision: Lamberth decided not to sever any additional department systems from the Internet, as the plaintiffs in the case had requested.

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