Report Details Ethics Violations Of Offshore Agency

Officials in the government office that oversees oil drilling in the Gulf of Mexico accepted gifts from the oil industry, including tickets to sport events, downloaded pornography on their work computers and engaged in illegal drug use. One inspector even conducted offshore oil platform inspections while negotiating for a job with the platform's owner. The activities outlined in a report released today by the Interior Department's inspector General occurred between 2000 and 2008, and were not directly related to the Deepwater Horizon explosion. But Interior Secretary Ken Salazar says the abuses are yet another reason to clean house at the Minerals Management Service.

Copyright © 2010 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

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.

Copyright © 2010 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.

Support comes from: