Native firm to contract with Interior

Accounting work is result of lawsuit against Interior relating to trust accounts

Posted: Wednesday, November 05, 2003

A Native technology company in Juneau could earn up to $50 million doing information technology work for the U.S. Department of the Interior.

Tlingit and Haida Technology Industries has been designated to do historical accounting work for the agency that could extend five years and has a payment ceiling of $50 million, said Dan DuBray, an Interior spokesman in Washington, D.C.

THTI Operations Manager Bill Martin said the company has four employees, but plans to employ at least 23 when the contract work begins.

The court-ordered accounting work is the result of a class-action lawsuit against the Interior Department. The suit was filed in 1996 on behalf of American Indians who hold trust accounts related to leasing of Indian lands.

The Interior Department collects income generated by the leases and distributes the money to trust-account holders. But the lawsuit claims the agency has not collected and disbursed the funds properly, and is unable to account for what it has done with the funds since the 1880s, DuBray said.

The agency was ordered to do some historical accounting, and it set up the Office of Historical Trust Accounting.

"The office has been consulting with accounting firms and others to prospectively set up a team to conduct this accounting," DuBray said.

The work is on hold pending congressional funding and further court rulings, he said.

Martin said the company will work with TAMSCO, a Maryland-based information technology company with offices around the United States.

Tlingit and Haida Technology Industries will provide the computers and the space to do the work, while TAMSCO will make available software it has developed for similar projects, he said.

"We're going to be doing work that will allow us to catalog documents," Martin said. "So all these pieces of paper that are all over the place can in effect be coded so that people can access them from computer services."

DuBray said the work will include accounting, document imaging and record reconstruction.

TAMSCO and THTI seemed to be a good business match because TAMSCO has considerable experience and the Alaska Native company has the minority status that is a priority for some federal contracts, said Myrna Gardner, THTI's business development and marketing manager.

"With federal government contracting you have to have quite a few years of experience, that's something they require, or specific past performance in the contract areas," Gardner said. TAMSCO "had that, they'd been in business in the (information technology) industry longer than we were, and they'd taken on projects successfully."

The Central Council of Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska chartered Tlingit and Haida Steel Industries in 1990. In 2002, the tribe-owned business changed its name to Tlingit and Haida Technology Industries.

The contract likely will require more than 23 employees, Martin said. Given that the work requires only a computer and the proper software, additional employees may be hired in Native villages in Southeast Alaska.

"We want to get as many jobs in Southeast, not only just in Juneau but in some of the villages, too," Martin said. "It's a Tlingit-Haida thing, and we're really hurting for jobs, so this is one of the ways we can get more jobs to the people."

THTI also has submitted a proposal for a contract with the U.S. Department of Defense that would bring jobs to Hoonah, Martin said.

• Christine Schmid can be reached at cschmid@juneauempire.com. Masha Herbst can be reached at masha.herbst@juneauempire.com.



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