DOI: Report finds ethics lapses at MMS office in Louisiana

Nick Snow
OGJ Washington Editor

WASHINGTON, DC, May 25 -- A report by the US Department of the Interior’s inspector general found several ethics violations by employees at a US Minerals Management Service office in Lake Charles, La., during 2000-08, US Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said on May 25.

The report followed one on an investigation the IG’s office conducted in 2007 that revealed major ethics lapses within MMS’s royalties collection operations in Lakewood, Colo. Salazar commented that this one found that employees in the Lake Charles district office accepted sporting event tickets, lunches, and other gifts from oil and gas producers, and used government computers to view pornography, among other things.

Some of the employees were responsible for inspecting offshore drilling platforms in the Gulf of Mexico, he added. He said several individuals mentioned in the new report have resigned, were fired, or were referred for prosecution. Others who were cited for questionable behavior who still work for MMS will be placed on administrative leave pending the outcome of a personnel review, he said.

“This deeply disturbing report is further evidence of the cozy relationship between some elements of MMS and the oil and gas industry,” Salazar said. “That is why, during the first 10 days of becoming Interior secretary, I directed a strong ethics reform agenda to clean house of these ethical lapses at MMS.” He said he plans to follow through on the report’s recommendations, including firing or otherwise disciplining employees and referring any wrong-doing for criminal prosecution.

Salazar said he has asked Mary L. Kendall, DOI’s acting inspector general, to expand her inquiry and determine whether “any of this reprehensible behavior persisted after the new ethics rules I implemented in 2009.” The 2007 inquiry found that some employees at MMS’s Lakewood office were involved in sexual misconduct and drug abuse as well as other serious violations of federal employment rules. Earl E. Devaney, who was the department’s IG at the time, emphasized in his report that the vast majority of MMS employees were not involved.

Salazar, who is scheduled to testify on May 26 at the US House Natural Resources Committee’s first hearing on the Apr. 20 Deepwater Horizon gulf oil spill, said he also has asked the IG’s office to investigate whether MMS employees failed to adequately enforce standards or inspect the rig.

Salazar also said he wants the office to investigate whether there are deficiencies in MMS policies or practices that need to be addressed to ensure that oil and gas operations on the US Outer Continental shelf are conducted in a safe and environmentally responsible manner.

Contact Nick Snow at nicks@pennwell.com.



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