Sex, drugs, bribes rock and roll Bush Interior Department corruption scandal
There apparently has been much partying and no little dirty work among federal employees who are supposed to police oil taxes and royalties for drilling on public land and offshore.
WASHINGTON — As Congress prepares to debate expansion of drilling in taxpayer-owned coastal waters, the Interior Department agency that collects oil and gas royalties has been caught up in a wide-ranging ethics scandal — including allegations of financial self-dealing, accepting gifts from energy companies, cocaine use and sexual misconduct.
In three reports delivered to Congress on Wednesday, the department’s inspector general, Earl E. Devaney, found wrongdoing by a dozen current and former employees of the Minerals Management Service, which collects about $10 billion in royalties annually and is one of the government’s largest sources of revenue other than taxes.
“A culture of ethical failure” besets the agency, Mr. Devaney wrote in a cover memo.
The reports portray a dysfunctional organization that has been riddled with conflicts of interest, unprofessional behavior and a free-for-all atmosphere for much of the Bush administration’s watch.
We are not talking park rangers and Smokey the Bear here. We are talking about the people who collect the money the oil and gas companies are supposed to pay for drilling on public lands and offshore areas.
The investigations are the latest installment in a series of scathing probes of the troubled program’s management and competence in recent years. While previous reports have focused on problems the agency has had in collecting millions of dollars owed to the Treasury, the new set of reports raises questions about the integrity and behavior of the agency’s officials.
In one of the new reports, investigators conclude that a key supervisor at the agency’s minerals revenue management office worked together with two aides to steer a lucrative consulting contract to one of the aides after he retired, violating competitive procurement rules.
Two other reports focus on “a culture of substance abuse and promiscuity” and unethical behavior in the service’s royalty-in-kind program. That part of the agency collects about $4 billion a year in the form of oil and gas rather than cash royalties.
The investigation also concluded that several of the officials “frequently consumed alcohol at industry functions, had used cocaine and marijuana, and had sexual relationships with oil and gas company representatives.”
The investigation separately found that the program’s manager mixed official and personal business, and took money from a technical services firm in exchange for urging oil companies to hire the firm. In sometimes lurid detail, the report accuses him of having intimate relations with two subordinates, one of whom regularly sold him cocaine.
The culture of the organization “appeared to be devoid of both the ethical standards and internal controls sufficient to protect the integrity of this vital revenue-producing program,” one report said.
A spokeswoman for the Interior Department secretary, Dirk Kempthorne, referred inquiries to the Minerals Management Service. The service’s director, Randall Luthi, released a preliminary statement on Wednesday morning saying he had not yet seen the reports but had scheduled a mid-afternoon conference call with reporters.
“I will tell you that we requested this investigation in 2006 after an employee raised allegations of ethical lapses,” Mr. Luthi’s early statement said. “I look forward to having the opportunity to review the Inspector General’s findings so we can take the appropriate actions.”
A spokesman for Mr. Devaney declined to comment.
The report also recommended that the Justice Department seek felony charges against another official, Milton Dial, the friend who helped Mr. Mayberry win the contract and initially oversaw the consulting work. Mr. Dial retired in September 2004 and went to work for Mr. Mayberry’s new company in February 2005.
The report did not say how the Justice Department was handling Mr. Dial’s case. Efforts to reach Mr. Dial, whose telephone number is unlisted, were unsuccessful.
The inspector general also urged the administration to take administrative action against several of the officials in the royalty-in-kind program who accepted gifts from the oil companies, including either firing them or banning them for life from certain positions. Several have already been transferred out of the program but remain on the government payroll, it said.
But two of the highest-ranking officials who were targets of the investigations will apparently escape sanction. Both retired during the investigation, rendering them safe from any administrative punishment, and the Justice Department has declined to prosecute them on the charges suggested by the inspector general.
On one occasion, the report said, the royalty-in-kind program allowed a Chevron representative who won a bid to purchase some of the government’s oil to pay taxpayers a lower amount than his winning offer because he said he had made a mistake in his calculations. A report from Mr. Devaney’s office earlier this year found that the program had frequently allowed companies that purchase the oil and gas to revise their bids downward after they won contracts. It documented 118 such occasions that cost taxpayers about $4.4 million in all.