Report Details Ethics Violations Of Offshore Agency
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And the Minerals Management Service made other news today. There were new and troubling revelations that MMS officials accepted gifts from the industry it regulates, including tickets to sporting events, and that MMS employees downloaded pornography on office computers. The conduct was detailed in a report released today by the Interior Department's inspector general.
NPR's Brian Naylor has more details.
BRIAN NAYLOR: The investigation by the inspector general centered on the Lake Charles, Louisiana, district office of the MMS. Investigators found, quote: a culture where the acceptance of gifts from oil and gas companies were widespread. That may be an understatement.
The IG found emails from 2005 through 2007, detailing invitations from various offshore oil companies to MMS inspectors. The invitations were to skeet-shooting contests, hunting and fishing trips, golf tournaments and crawfish boils.
The IG found some of the MMS officials attended the events, including a trip to the 2005 Peach Bowl game. One inspector told investigators he was a big LSU fan and couldn't refuse the tickets.
Another MMS employee admitted to using crystal meth, and admitted he may have been under the influence of the drug at work. In addition, investigators found numerous instances of pornography and other inappropriate material on the email accounts of 13 employees, six of whom have resigned.
A source also told the IG that MMS inspectors falsified inspection forms, in some cases allowing oil and gas production company personnel to fill out inspection forms in pencil. An MMS official would then write over the pencil in ink, and turn in the completed form. The IG couldn't verify that charge.
The IG discovered one MMS employee was engaged in job discussions with an oil company while he inspected that company's platforms. He found no incidents of noncompliance and was later hired.
Critics of the MMS say the latest report just reiterates what they've long argued about the agency: that it's too cozy with those it should be regulating.
Mandy Smithberger is an investigator at the Project on Government Oversight.
Ms. MANDY SMITHBERGER (National Security Investigator, Project on Government Oversight): I think, again, what you're seeing is that the Minerals Management Service is an agency that's just out of control and far too close to industry, and just doesn't understand what an arm's-length relationship looks like.
NAYLOR: None of the conduct was related to the Deepwater Horizon disaster in the gulf, but Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said the report, which he called deeply disturbing, highlights the importance of ethics reforms he's instituted at the agency since taking over last year.
In an appearance before a Senate panel looking into the legal liabilities of the gulf oil spill, Deputy Interior Secretary David Hayes said Salazar wants the IG's office to continue its probe.
Deputy Secretary DAVID HAYES (Department of the Interior): The secretary today has asked the inspector general, as a follow-up to that report, to see if any ethical violations have continued in connection with the New Orleans activities of the Minerals Management Service. The report the inspector general has does not indicate that they have continued, but we want to make sure they have not continued.
NAYLOR: The IG's investigation was prompted by an anonymous letter in 2008, sent to the U.S. Attorney's Office in New Orleans. The MMS has had other well-known cases of misconduct - most notably in its Denver office, where another IG report outlined cases of MMS officials using drugs and having sexual relationships with oil industry personnel.
Democratic Senator Debbie Stabenow, of Michigan, took pains to point out at today's hearing the conduct occurred well before President Obama took office.
Senator DEBBIE STABENOW (Democrat, Michigan): This White House is dealing with holdovers from the former administration that believed in that deregulation -backing up, not having the accountability, letting the industries basically make the decisions.
NAYLOR: Salazar has proposed breaking up the MMS into three separate parts, and is scheduled to testify about his plans before a House panel tomorrow.
Brian Naylor, NPR News, Washington.
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