Illicit Sex By Government Officials Investigated
ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.
Federal investigators today revealed a sordid scandal involving employees of the Department of Interior. They've been accused by the department's inspector general of taking gifts, rigging contracts and having sex with employees of the energy companies they were supposed to regulate. The allegations involve 13 staffers at the Interior Department in Washington and in Denver.
NPR's Jeff Brady has been gathering the latest in all of this. Hi, Jeff.
JEFF BRADY: Hello.
SIEGEL: And first, what is the connection between the Interior Department people and the energy company employees?
BRADY: The Interior Department agency that is in question here is the Minerals Management Service. Most people know it - call it the MMS. The employees there make sure that all the drilling for oil and gas on public and Indian land and off the country's coast is done safely and with some environmental considerations in mind. But more importantly, for our purposes here, they also keep track of all the royalties generated from those oil and gas wells. So, in essence, they're supposed to be watchdogs on behalf of all Americans who own that oil and gas to make sure the energy companies pay the royalties they owe.
SIEGEL: Well, what more can you tell us about what these people are alleged to have done?
BRADY: Well, the Interior's Office of Inspector General - actually, the inspector general of the Department of Interior, Earl Devaney, in his report, paints a party-like atmosphere at the MMS in Denver. He says there was a culture of substance abuse and promiscuity. He talks about a supervisor who used illegal drugs and had sex with subordinates. He talks about trips paid for by energy companies where MMS employees got drunk. And when they couldn't drive home, they accepted hotel rooms from those same companies.
Sometimes, they had sexual relations with industry employees. They even uncovered a scheme between three supervisors who are friends to rig contracts to benefit each other. And here's something that really surprised me. When the office of inspector general approached the employees, none of them displayed any remorse. And that may have changed a little bit since then because one already has pleaded guilty to a criminal charge, the others could face administrative sanctions. But there are a few who are going to face no penalty at all because they have left their jobs in the meantime.
SIEGEL: You know, I was going to ask you how these allegations came to light. I guess the more logical question is how could these allegations not have come to light until more recently?
(Soundbite of laughter)
SIEGEL: It seems it was blatant, what you're describing.
BRADY: Yeah. And somebody there at the agency noticed and apparently, they tipped off the Office of Inspector General at the Minerals Management Service. And that launched an investigation. It took about two years, cost $5.3 million, involved hundreds of interviews. Inspector General Devaney said he was frustrated with how long the investigation lasted. And he blamed one oil company, Chevron, for refusing to cooperate with investigators. I've been trying to reach the folks at Chevron to find out why, but no luck so far.
SIEGEL: Do you know, Jeff, how recently any of these alleged abuses are said to have taken place? I mean, was it two years ago or is it more recent than that? Was it ongoing?
BRADY: Well, certainly, once they found out what was happening, that those things were put to a stop.
SIEGEL: Well, I guess that's good news, in that case. Thank you, Jeff.
BRADY: Well, it is. And you can bet that many of the oil industry's critics are going to latch on to this one. But I can't imagine it's going to necessarily slow down the pace of drilling for natural gas or oil because as Inspector General Devaney said, it's clear that 99.9 percent of the agency's employees are ethical, hardworking and well-intentioned people.
SIEGEL: Thank you, Jeff.
BRADY: Thank you.
SIEGEL: That's NPR's Jeff Brady speaking to us today from member station KUNC in Greeley, Colorado.