GAO Report on Management of Indian Trust Accounts

May 31, 2023 | Insights

On April 27, 2023, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a report entitled “Actions Needed to Improve Interior’s Management of Trust Services.” In this report, GAO assessed the Department of Interior’s evolving management of trust funds for Indian tribes and individual Indians.  

According to the report, as of September 2022, the Federal government held more than $8 billion in trust funds on behalf of hundreds of Tribes and thousands of Individual Indian Money (IIM) account holders. These funds primarily comprise revenues generated by activities like agricultural leasing and oil and gas production on more than 56 million acres of land that the federal government holds in trust for Tribes and individuals.

GAO was particularly concerned about the overlapping roles and functions of the Office of the Special Trustee (OST) and the Bureau of Trust Funds Administration (BTFA). The Department of the Interior created BTFA in 2020 to take over the management of trust functions from OST. However, Congress has expressed concern about the creation of BTFA, refused to appropriate funding for BTFA, and continues to appropriate funds for OST.  

As a result, Congress directed GAO to review the status of OST’s termination and the transfer of functions from OST to BTFA. GAO examined:

  • The extent to which the Interior followed leading practices for agency reform during the transfer of trust functions from OST to BTFA; 
  • The status of OST’s termination; and 
  • Potential duplication, overlap, and fragmentation of roles and responsibilities between BTFA and OST and the extent to which the bureaus have collaborated to manage any duplication, overlap, or fragmentation.  

In reviewing OST and BTFA, GAO did not find duplication but did find fragmentation of responsibilities and overlap in operations and services. GAO also found that the Interior transferred OST’s trust functions to BTFA but has not submitted a transition or termination notice to Congress as required under the Indian Trust Asset Reform Act of 2016. GAO recommends amending the law so that the Interior can submit a transition plan to Congress without triggering the termination of OST.

GAO’s report can be found here

Patterson Earnhart Real Bird & Wilson LLP is dedicated to the representation of American Indian tribes, tribal entities, and individual Indians across the United States. Our mission is to support and advance the sovereignty, self-sufficiency, and self-governance of our tribal clients. To learn more about how we can assist your tribe, contact our DC office at (202-434-8903).