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Court to government: Actually do your job

Accounting Ordered At Indian Trust Fund

A federal judge ruled today that the Interior Department had to provide a full accounting by 2007 of billions of dollars in royalties earned on Indian land. The proceeds are supposed to go to a trust fund for the Indians.

The judge, Royce C. Lamberth of Federal District Court here, expressed skepticism that the department would comply with his order.

"It is not that the court believes Interior is incapable of formulating an adequate plan for an accounting," Judge Lamberth ruled. "Rather, it is that the court has no confidence that Interior is willing to actually implement an adequate accounting."

I wonder if one or more of the Democratic candidates could make an issue of this. Certainly it's not a great hammer to hit Bush with, since the irresponsibility at issue has been going on under administrations from all parties. And siding with Indians may not be a politically helpful move, since many communities resent the nearby tribes' economic and political influence.

On the other hand, voters nowadays are disillusioned with Washington in general. It may be a good move to be able to say "I'm going to lead a change from the Republicans we have now, and the Democrats you've seen in the past." It would dilute the impression of pure partisan shrillness. The trust fund issue would be a strike against an obviously inefficient bureaucracy, and consonant with the overall message of fiscal accountability that the nominee is guaranteed to promote. Further, for many Americans, there's a (correct) sense that the nation has mistreated its indigenous people. Proposing to right something that's wrong on an obvious, almost Sunday School level will appeal to people's sense of justice. Bush can hardly claim to oppose a proper settlement of the issue, and could easily be driven to make an identical commitment. At most he could make a greenhouse-type dodge and claim we need to wait for a fuller accounting of exactly how bad the mismanagement is.


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