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Highlights

The American Indian Trust Fund Management Reform Act of 1994 established the Office of the Special Trustee for American Indians (OST), within the Department of the Interior, to oversee the implementation of management reforms for funds--derived primarily from Interior's leasing of Indian lands--that Interior holds in trust for many Indian tribes and individuals. Specifically, the act directs that an integrated information system be developed that interfaces the trust fund accounting system with the land title records and asset management systems maintained by Interior's Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA). GAO examined (1) OST's progress in implementing the trust fund management reforms and (2) the extent to which OST has used contractors in implementing these reforms. GAO reviewed OST's strategic plans and contracting documents and interviewed OST and BIA managers.

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Recommendations

Recommendations for Executive Action

Agency Affected Recommendation Status
Department of the Interior 1. To improve congressional oversight of the trust reforms and ensure that trust fund accounting operations, once implemented, are economically staffed, the Secretary of the Interior should direct the Special Trustee to provide the Congress with a timetable for completing the trust fund management reforms.
Closed - Implemented
In November 2008, the Office of the Special Trustee for American Indians issued its report on implementing its trust fund management reform initiatives. The report identified costs totaling $57.5 million and anticipated completion dates for the remaining initiatives.
Department of the Interior 2. To improve congressional oversight of the trust reforms and ensure that trust fund accounting operations, once implemented, are economically staffed, the Secretary of the Interior should direct the Special Trustee to, in anticipation of completing the trust reforms, provide the Congress with a plan for future trust fund operations, including, if the decision is made to terminate OST, a determination of where these operations will reside.
Closed - Implemented
In December 2009, the departments of the Interior and Justice reached a settlement with the plaintiffs in the long-running Cobell class-action lawsuit regarding the federal government's management and accounting of more than 300,000 individual American Indian and Alaska Native trust accounts. On December 9, 2009, Interior issued Secretarial Order No. 3292, which spelled out the framework for the establishment of a Secretarial Commission on Indian Trust Management and Reform that would develop recommendations on the future management and administration of trust assets. One of the Commission's duties is to make recommendations regarding the possible termination of the Office of the Special Trustee for American Indians. On June 20, 2011, the district court approved the $3.4 billion settlement. Following that approval, on July 8, 2011, Interior published a notice in the Federal Register announcing the establishment of the Commission in accordance with the secretarial order. The Commission has 2 years, until July 2013, to complete its duties. While the Commission is doing its work, the Office of the Special Trustee plans to maintain a "steady state" workforce at the agency's current staff levels, skills, and geographic and organization deployment until such time as changes are required by the Commission. This plan is reflected in the Office of the Special Trustee's 2012 Workforce Plan, issued in July 2011. In addition, the plan to maintain a "steady state" was communicated to Congress as part of the Office of the Special Trustee's 2012 Budget Justification.
Department of the Interior 3. To improve congressional oversight of the trust reforms and ensure that trust fund accounting operations, once implemented, are economically staffed, the Secretary of the Interior should direct the Special Trustee to, as trust reforms are completed and contracts are terminated, develop a workforce plan that reexamines and proposes staffing level and funding needs.
Closed - Implemented
In September 2007, the Office of the Special Trustee for American Indians issued its 2007 Workforce and Diversity Plan. This plan established workforce and staffing targets for each office and branch for the next few years.

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