Despite the BIA's mismanagement of the trust funds, the tribes are reluctant to give another agency or office authority over the money, Norton said. "It is the part of the bureaucracy that they are most attached to," she said. Under the proposal for the new office, the BIA would focus on other missions, such as providing tribal services and helping tribes with economic development and education.
Norton, who faces contempt of court charges in the Cobell lawsuit, said Interior has been working with the tribes to hammer out a compromise on trust management reform. Members of the Native American community, including the National Congress of American Indians, criticized Interior for devising the reorganization without consulting tribes. The group is the oldest and largest tribal government organization in the country. Recent events involving a court-imposed shutdown of Interior's computer systems have also fueled the controversy over the department's management of the Indian trust funds. In December, U.S. District Court Judge Royce C. Lamberth ordered Interior to disconnect nearly all of its computers from the Internet, saying the agency's inadequate information security system put information on Indian trust funds at risk. Although Lamberth later said Interior could put systems not connected to BIA financial information back online, about 90 percent of the department still does not have access to the Internet. As a result, about 43,000 people did not receive trust fund checks in December.