Department Of Interior

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Office of the Secretary
Dan DuBray
For Immediate Release: November 13, 2003

Statement of the Department of the Interior on
November 13, 2003 Stay Issued by U.S. Court of Appeals

The Department is pleased that the Court of Appeals has stayed the structural injunction issued by Judge Lamberth pending a further order from the Court.

During this court-ordered pause in the litigation, the Department of the Interior is committed to engage in a bipartisan effort with Members of Congress, with the plaintiffs, and with Tribes to resolve issues in the litigation in a fair and honorable way for all Americans.

The Department has estimated that it would cost taxpayers at least $6 billion to comply with the injunction and believes that the Court of Appeals should review the many issues raised by the injunction before the Department is required to embark on such a massive undertaking.

Congress has asked for a 'time out' of its own, sharply restricting the funding available to the Department for historical accounting work until congressional authorizing committees have an opportunity to define and resolve the key issues in the case.

On the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives last month, House Interior Appropriations Committee chairman Rep. Charles Taylor of North Carolina made it clear that the choices were becoming stark for Congress: "For the past three fiscal years," he said, "the Committee on Appropriations has stated that it will not appropriate hundreds of millions of dollars, now billions of dollars, for a historical accounting."

Congressional alarm over the growing price tag of this case is crossing party lines and is being heard in both chambers. On November 3rd, when the U.S. Senate took up the Indian trust issue, Senator Byron Dorgan of North Dakota - a Democrat - said the court order "according to experts, if followed to the letter, would require us to hire accountants from Maine to California and about $9 billion worth of work - that is right, with a 'b,' $9 billion worth of work - to try and sort out what the accounts are in the Indian trust funds."

Noting that it has been acknowledged that a total of $13 billion has passed through the Indian trust fund accounts since 1887, Senator Dorgan remarked: "would the Native Americans want us to begin a process in which we spend up to $9 billion to hire accountants and financial folks and others to sift through these accounts? I think that is just nuts. That doesn't make any sense at all to anybody."

A few days ago, Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell and Senator Daniel Inouye - respectively, the chairman and ranking member of the Select Committee on Indian Affairs - sent a letter to Secretary Norton stating their belief that we face an historic opportunity to resolve the matters associated with this litigation in way that is fair and honorable. The Department of the Interior shares the view of these leaders and will continue in its efforts to seek such a resolution.


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