Interior Dept. Defends Its Keeping of Indian Books

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

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.

A federal judge has ordered that Interior Department officials account for every dollar received and paid to Native Americans since 1887.

In a glossy 24-page brochure, the department says the audit the judge ordered would cost $12 billion and efforts so far have found that errors make up less than 1 percent of the dollars reconciled. "This picture is significantly different from that offered by Interior's critics," Interior Secretary Gale A. Norton states in a letter opening the brochure.

Lawyers for the plaintiffs immediately criticized the report. The plaintiffs have argued the department is using inaccurate and, in some cases, incomplete data.

-- Associated Press

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