During the past six months, most Bureau of Land Management Web sites have been unavailable to the public: The agency has disconnected them for the fourth time in five years while officials attend to security concerns.

The most recent shutdown resulted from an ongoing class-action lawsuit brought by Elouise Cobell on behalf of 500,000 Indians. The plaintiffs claim that the Department of Interior owes them billions of dollars in royalties and that it has endangered Indian trust account data by storing it on insecure computers (HCN, 8/8/05: Congress and Indians spar over lost money). Last April, the BLM voluntarily shut down its Web sites, while it worked on security problems. Now, Judge Royce Lamberth has extended that shutdown to all Interior computers related to the Indian trust case.

Some documents usually found on state BLM sites — including environmental impact statements and resource management plans — are posted on the agency’s national page, www.blm.gov. But the availability of these documents varies widely from state to state, and they’re difficult to locate, says Nada Culver of The Wilderness Society’s BLM Action Center. Linda Baker of the conservation group Upper Green Valley Coalition says, "People can’t get access to information they need to make informed decisions."

BLM officials won’t comment on the agency’s failure to plug the security holes. But Keith Harper, an attorney in the Cobell case, says the agency is not unable to fix the problem — it’s unwilling. "They have the money to fix it, and they’ve had the time to fix it," he says. "Why has it taken so long?"