Handling of Indian Funds Criticized

A federal judge yesterday issued a harsh critique of Interior Secretary Gale A. Norton and her department's repeated failures to account for hundreds of millions of dollars owed to 500,000 Native Americans whose lands the agency has managed for more than a century.

U.S. District Judge Royce C. Lamberth rejected the department's request to strike from the court record allegations by Native Americans that Interior Department officials tried to retaliate against them for filing their suit. The Indians said the agency withheld checks and allowed records of money owed them to be destroyed.

The judge said there was substantial evidence of both. If the department did not start acknowledging its "sordid history" of mismanaging Indian trust accounts, he said, "history will likely continue to be repeated until there is no trust left to manage."

"Nothing can remove the stain of Interior's actions from the record in this case," Lamberth wrote.

Many Get a Reprieve Over Passports

Millions of visitors from Japan, Australia, New Zealand, Singapore and much of Europe are getting a temporary reprieve from a new U.S. requirement that they carry passports that can be read by scanning machines.

All were supposed to have the passports starting Tuesday. But the Homeland Security Department announced yesterday that visitors from those countries who have not obtained the new passports will be granted a one-time exemption.

Those granted exemptions will be notified they may be refused entry if they do not have new passports the next time they visit.

Border and Transportation Security Undersecretary Asa Hutchinson said the new policy will help ensure that visitors' first experience in the United States is positive. He said the rule will be reviewed after six months.

The "machine-readable" passports have printed biographical data and a photograph that meet international standards and can be read by an optical scanner.

GAO Asked to Look at Officials' Trips

The chairwoman of the House Democrats' task force on homeland security is asking Congress's independent auditors to examine travel by senior Bush administration officials in light of recent trips to hotly contested states in the 2004 presidential election.

In a letter to the Government Accountability Office, Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney (D-N.Y.) said she wants it to look at the number and cost of trips by national security adviser Condoleezza Rice, Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge and Treasury Secretary John W. Snow.

Recent news reports indicated the three have spent increasing amounts of time in states key to the presidential election. Maloney wants to know whether the trips were free of political considerations and whether they were paid for by taxpayers or by the Bush-Cheney campaign.

-- Compiled from reports by staff writer

Carol Leonnig and news services