Court orders historical accounting of American Indian trust

In a major victory for American Indian plaintiffs suing the government over mismanaged trust assets, the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia has mandated a historical accounting of trust assets back to 1887.

The decision could lead to creating a large computerized accounting project. The court order specified that the Interior Department must use industry databases of oil production and geographic information systems to fill gaps in records of oil produced on American Indian lands.

Interior officials were not available to comment yesterday afternoon or today. But Dennis Gingold, attorney for the American Indian plaintiffs in Cobell v. Norton, predicted the government would appeal the decision by Judge Royce C. Lamberth.

The order consisted of a structural injunction to rebuild the records and two memoranda describing further details of the required historical accounting. Lamberth specified that Interior must reconstruct trust transactions dating back to 1887, whereas Interior had argued that it should only have to reconstruct transactions since the 1980s.

In January, Interior's Office of Historical Trust Accounting proposed to the court a reconstruction that would have cost the government $335 million. Under that plan, Interior engaged 14 consulting firms including integration contractor Booz Allen Hamilton of McLean, Va., and IT security adviser Government and Business Solutions Inc., also of McLean.

But Gingold said the court's new definition of the magnitude of accounting work would use up the $335 million in the first year of a process that could last nine years.

He said the trust funds at issue in the case could amount to as much as $107 billion. Interior cannot comply with the structural order to rebuild the accounts, he said, because 'you have to be honest and skilled to do this. They can't do this because they are a bunch of lobbyists and political hacks. ' They don't even have skill with an abacus.'


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