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Letter to Senators Burns and Dorgan

Location: Unknown

March 13, 2003

The Honorable Conrad Burns
Subcommittee on Interior
Committee on Appropriations
Washington, DC 20510

The Honorable Byron Dorgan
Ranking Member
Subcommittee on Interior
Committee on Appropriations
Washington, DC 20510

Dear Chairman Burns and Ranking Member Dorgan:

On several occasions during the 107th Congress, the Department of Interior (DOI) requested authority to reprogram funds to create a new agency, the Bureau of Indian Trust Assets Management, or to implement administratively a trust asset reorganization plan without the approval of the Congress or Indian leaders. We are writing to object to any further approval of reprogramming requests that may be received by the Committee from DOI for the purpose of Indian trust asset management reform without the express approval of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs and Indian tribal leaders of the specific plan being proposed.

Mismanagement of Indian trust assets by the federal government is a longstanding problem that spans a number of administrations of both political parties. However, the complexity and longevity of this fiasco neither mitigates the injustice visited on the 300,000 American Indians whose accounts have been shortchanged nor absolves the federal government of its responsibility to correct the situation in a timely manner.

We commend Secretary Norton=s determination to make trust asset accounting and management a higher priority within DOI. However, effective long-term improvement in trust management will come only through a two-stage process.

First, DOI must maintain a thorough and genuine consultation process with affected Native American stakeholders throughout the United States. Second, the best concepts and ideas to arise from that process should be subject to an extensive hearing process within the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, and used as the basis for trust reform legislation that is acceptable to Indian people.

The Senate Committee on Indian Affairs is the appropriate committee of jurisdiction to tackle the difficult issues facing Indian trust management, including any substantial administrative reforms affecting long-term trust management by the Interior Department. But to allow the Administration to unilaterally impose significant trust reforms without adequate input from tribal leaders or congressional oversight will only serve to exacerbate an already intractable and longstanding problem.

Thank you for your consideration of our views.


Tom Daschle
John McCain
United States Senate

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