Interior Web sites back on line

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Department of the Interior Web sites shut down under a federal order are back on line.

The Web sites were ordered shut down by U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth on Dec. 5, 2001. Lamberth ordered the department to disconnect from the Internet all computer systems housing or with access to individual Indian trust information.

"We are in the process of developing a notice to send to the federal register that we are back on line," said Bureau of Land Management regulation writer Cynthia Ellis from Washington, D.C.

"We were back up on Thursday morning," she said.

The Web sites affected are those for the Bureau of Land Management, Bureau of Indian Affairs and the National Park Service.

Because of the order, many of the departments' Internet functions, including e-mailed commentary on a variety of issues were lost.

The Department of the Interior has trust responsibilities for American Indians, dating back to 1887, and manages, among other things, rents and royalties from grazing, mining, logging and oil drilling on Indian lands.

While disconnected, the income from oil and gas leasing couldn't be forwarded to the Office of Trust Funds Management for distribution.

In late January, the court gave its permission to activate the Integrated Records Management System to process grazing and timber lease payments.

Last week, Secretary of the Interior Gale Norton announced she has authorized the Office of Trust Funds Management to begin issuing estimated oil and gas payments to Indian trust beneficiaries.

"I am glad that we are able to get estimated payments moving," Norton said. "The past couple of months have been frustrating for all involved. This is a very high priority for the department, and we are working aggressively to manage these accounts and ensure that estimated payments are made to individual Indians."

The estimated payments will be based on a percentage of payments made to individuals during the three most recent months when checks were issued, according to Norton.

Since December, a team of computer experts and technicians have been evaluating the department's information technology systems, improving the protection of individual Indian trust data and taking the steps to gain the court's permission to reconnect the department's computer system to the Internet.


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