Drilling Agency Staff Mix Meth, Porn, Oil

The AP reports more troubling news from the Gulf:

WASHINGTON – Staff members at an agency that oversees offshore drilling accepted tickets to sports events, lunches and other gifts from oil and gas companies and used government computers to view pornography, according to an Interior Department report alleging a culture of cronyism between regulators and the industry.

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In at least one case, an inspector for the Minerals Management Service admitted using crystal methamphetamine and said he might have been under the influence of the drug the next day at work, according to the report by the acting inspector general of the Interior Department.

The report cites a variety of violations of federal regulations and ethics rules at the agency's Louisiana office. Previous inspector general investigations have focused on inappropriate behavior by the royalty-collection staff in the agency's Denver office.

The report adds to the climate of frustration and criticism facing the Obama administration in the monthlong oil spill disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, although it covers actions before the spill. Millions of gallons of oil are gushing into the Gulf, endangering wildlife and the livelihoods of fishermen, as scrutiny intensifies on a lax regulatory climate.

The report began as a routine investigation, the acting inspector general, Mary Kendall, said in a cover letter to Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, whose department includes the agency.

"Unfortunately, given the events of April 20 of this year, this report had become anything but routine, and I feel compelled to release it now," she wrote.

Her biggest concern is the ease with which minerals agency employees move between industry and government, Kendall said. While no specifics were included in the report, "we discovered that the individuals involved in the fraternizing and gift exchange — both government and industry — have often known one another since childhood," Kendall said.

Old friends and new job opportunities should never take prescedence over safety. Changes must be made to prevent regulators and oil companies from becoming too close. Many of the employees in the report have since resigned or been fired, and Salazar has proposed creating two bureaus and a revenue collection office to replace MMS, but greater assurance that this move will be an overhaul, and not just a superficial name change, is needed. Kendall's recommendation for a two-year waiting period for agency employees seeking jobs with the oil or gas industry should help. According to the AP, "the report follows a 2008 report by then-Inspector General Earl Devaney that decried a 'culture of ethical failure' and conflicts of interest at the minerals agency." Why, knowing this, weren't actions taken sooner? With lives and land at stake, we can't afford to wait any longer to change this crony culture.

Kerry Weber

Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more.
Jim McCrea
8 years ago
Sorry, David, but there's a world of difference between "having friends and acquaintances in the industry" and what when on in these cases.

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