Interior Dept. Defends Its Keeping of Indian Books

Interior Dept. Defends Its Keeping of Indian Books

The Interior Department says its audits of accounts it manages for thousands of Native Americans have found few errors and little evidence that anyone tampered with the records.

The agency’s position, in a report sent to Congress on Monday, runs contrary to that of Native Americans who filed a 1996 class-action lawsuit saying that they were cheated out of more than $100 billion because of mismanagement of oil, gas, grazing, timber and other royalties from their lands.

The Post goes on to say that the Interior Department documented this in a “glossy 24-page brochure”. They weren’t kidding. Whatever the truth of the claims, there’s no question that someone blew a bunch of money on a significant bit of form over content. You can see for yourself at http://www.doi.gov/indiantrust/iimaccounting.pdf. Pure PR.

If You Can’t Fix It – Change the Judge

https://openclipart.org/detail/11125/judge-hammerSince a Blackfeet tribe leader named Eloise Cobell filed this lawsuit in 1996, several independent investigations found much evidence for Lamberth’s concerns. Although, the government initially said its existing Indian trust fund records were in good shape, Lamberth hired a hacker who found they could easily be accessed and altered from outside. Other reviews found that the Interior Department had never kept complete records, used unknown amounts of money to help balance the federal budget, and let the oil and gas industry use Indian lands at bargain rates. They also concluded that the Clinton and Bush administrations have repeatedly sidestepped initiating the required accounting because of the likely cost.

When they stand before a different bench tomorrow, government lawyers are expected to try to shift the discussion from the acknowledged failure of Interior to properly account for money held in trust and due 50,000 Indians, to the often assaulting words and actions of a powerful Reagan appointee who has made no secret of his disgust. Only three times before has this appeals court disqualified a trial judge from a case.

This case has been going on for years. Everyone agrees that the judge has been particularly pithy in his criticism of the government’s behavior. But fundamentally the problem is that the Interior Department has repeatedly been unable to clean up its act.