Whistleblower Faces Firing For Exposing Indian Rip-Off

| Tue Aug. 28, 2007 9:13 PM EDT

Here's a sidebar to the Cobell v. Kempthorne case—the long-running lawsuit over the government's admitted mismanagement of the Individual Indian Trust (MoJo Sept/Oct 2005). An Interior Department attorney who revealed his agency's bungling of Indian properties faces the federal boot for disclosing these problems to a newspaper. According to documents released by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER), the government is invoking an obscure criminal statute known as the Trade Secrets Act (TSA).

Robert McCarthy, responsible for overseeing management of properties of individual members of Indian tribes held in trust by Interior, has documented massive losses due to agency missteps. Yet the problems persist, costing Native Americans millions of dollars a month in lost revenues. His concerns were validated by an Inspector General report that has yet to be finally released.

So, McCarthy provided a reporter for the Palm Springs Desert Sun a copy of his Inspector General disclosure with individual names blacked out. The reporter wrote a story in April, and four months later, Regional Solicitor Daniel Shillito proposed that McCarthy be fired for violating the TSA, which prohibits the release of "confidential" financial or commercial information. PEER suggests the TSA doesn't apply since McCarthy revealed no names or any information that could be considered confidential, and since the TSA only prohibits releases which damage the economic interests of the submitter. McCarthy's disclosures were designed to benefit property holders by identifying and ending unjustified losses.

Significantly, Shillito was supposed to clean up large-scale asset mismanagement and losses identified back in 1992. McCarthy found these had never been addressed. JULIA WHITTY

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