Indian Trust Funds:

Tribal Account Balances

GAO-02-420T: Published: Feb 7, 2002. Publicly Released: Feb 7, 2002.

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Congress established an Indian trust fund account reconciliation requirement in 1987 in response to tribes' concerns that the Department of the Interior had not consistently provided them with statements on their account balances, their trust fund accounts had never been reconciled, and Interior planned to contract with a third party to manage the accounts. Congress required that the accounts be audited and reconciled before the Bureau of Indian Affairs transferred funds to a third party. Interior's fiscal year 1990 appropriations act added a requirement that the accounts be reconciled to the earliest possible date and that Interior obtain an independent certification of the reconciliation work. The American Indian Trust Fund Management Reform Act of 1994 required Interior to provide tribes with reconciled account statements as of September 30, 1995. To fulfill these requirements, Interior contracted with two major independent public accounting firms, one to reconcile the trust accounts and the other to do an independent certification of the reconciliation. When Interior's reconciliation project was completed in January 1996, each tribe was provided a report that included unreconciled account statements with schedules of proposed adjustments based on results for each year of the five-year reconciliation. Later that year, GAO reported shortcomings in Interior's reconciliation project. As of May 1997, Interior had provided reconciliation reports to 310 tribes, 51 of which disputed the reconciliation results, and 41 of which accepted the results. Of the remaining 218 tribes, 47 had requested more time to consider the results, and 171 had not responded to the reconciliation results. Although Interior made a massive effort to reconcile tribal accounts during its reconciliation project, missing records and systems limitations made a full reconciliation impossible.

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