The Indian trust consists of 55 million surface acres and 57 million acres of subsurface minerals estates held in trust by the United States for American Indians, Indian tribes and Alaska Natives. Over 11 million acres belong to individual Indians and nearly 44 million acres are held in trust for Indian tribes. On these lands, the Department manages more than 122,817 leases. It also manages approximately $4.9 billion in trust funds.

For fiscal year 2015, OST achieved multiple milestones in delivering trust management services to tribal and Individual Indian Monies (IIM) account holders:

  • $1.7 billion was received into and disbursed from tribal and individual Indian beneficiaries' accounts (74% of these funds were disbursed electronically).
  • 892,000 periodic performance statements (showing sources of funds, encumbrance information, and listings of trust property owned) were provided to beneficiaries.
  • Approximately $4.9 billion of trust fund assets were invested to help meet the needs and objectives of tribal and individual Indian beneficiaries.
  • Approximately 10.7 million financial transactions were processed with 99.99% accuracy.

OST also had the following major accomplishments related to financial processing and beneficiary services:

  • Utilized economies of scale by transferring the printing and mailing of IIM and tribal Statements of Account to the U.S. Department of the Treasury. This transition has reduced costs to the federal government and increased reliability to the beneficiary while at the same time providing for effective continuity of operations to ensure no disruption in service.
  • Completed 362 site specific appraisals and six mass appraisal models for the Department's Land Buy Back Program for Tribal Nations. These appraisals, valued at approximately $2.021 billion, encompassed 11,873 land tracts, totalling 2,248,933 acres.
  • Conducted 12 Records Management Training Conferences at locations throughout Indian country. In total, 1,194 federal and tribal employees attended.
  • Completed 41 trust evaluations at various Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) and tribal locations to evaluate their compliance with trust standards in the management of their Indian trust operations.
  • Completed 71 records assessments at various BIA and OST locations to assess their compliance with the Indian Affairs Records Management Manual.
  • Presented 277 financial empowerment courses that helped beneficiaries achieve a level of understanding of financial management that supports and promotes financial self-sufficiency.
  • Implemented paperless accounting control log and electronic filing system, greatly reducing our carbon footprint.
  • Verified and updated the mailing addresses for 13,191 Whereabouts Unknown IIM accountholders with balances totaling $24.8 million.
  • Responded to 229,469 beneficiary contacts at the Trust Beneficiary Call Center and achieved and overall first-line resolution rate of 98%, outperforming the industry average of 49%.

There are a number of additional factors that make the Indian trust a unique management challenge:

  • Unlike most commercial trusts, there was no trust document that created the Indian trust and articulated the fiduciary duties incumbent on the federal government in managing that trust. Instead the Indian trust gradually evolved from a series of Congressional actions—beginning with the General Allotment Act of 1887 (“Dawes Act”)—and subsequent policy changes. This unusual history created uncertainties about how the trust was to be managed, and about the very nature of the Indian trust: was it more like a common law trust or more like a government program? These ambiguities were gradually, if incompletely, resolved by case law, then finally by enactment of the American Indian Trust Fund Management Reform Act of 1994. Even now, and despite legislative clarifications, the courts still wrestle with the issue of whether the Indian trust is governed by the Administrative Procedures Act (like other federal government programs) or by the common law of trusts.
  • Trust agreements or trust documents do not exist for each tribal account or each IIM account, which in a commercial trust would provide specific guidance in management of the trust assets.
  • The Indian trust operates under unique probate and title change requirements, and the sovereignty of the beneficiary community frequently influences management decisions.
  • Unlike the commercial trust environment, where accounts and underlying trust assets must remain economically viable and productive or face liquidation under the common law of trusts, a large number of small accounts exist within the Indian trust. As of the end of fiscal year 2015, there were 78,545 IIM accounts with balances of less than $15 and with no activity for 18 months. In fact, most Indian trust accounts would fall below the minimal threshold for commercial trust accounts. Of approximately 400,000 open IIM accounts in the system, 40,030 receive less than $10 per year. In many cases the value of an Indian trust account is less than the cost of its administration, and the cultural heritage associated with the land held in trust is sometimes more important to the beneficiary than its monetary worth.
  • The Indian fiduciary trust does not charge for services to manage the natural resources of the trust or investment of trust funds. Virtually 100 percent of the income is returned to tribes and individuals. 
  • By law, the Indian trust is limited to investments in government or government-backed securities, which decreases risk but also limits the potential for growth.