Interior Department Inspector General Issues Report Detailing Sleaze at Minerals Management Service

May 25, 2010 11:16am

The acting inspector general of the U.S. Department of the Interior turned in a scathing report yesterday about allegations that Minerals Management Service (MMS) inspectors in the Louisiana region, during the administration of President George W. Bush, accepted lavish gifts from representatives of oil and gas production companies, possibly worked while under the influence of crystal methamphetamine, and may have allowed oil and gas production company personnel to fill out inspection forms.

You can read the report HERE.

Acting Inspector General Mary Kendall wrote to Interior Secretary Ken Salazar that of “greatest concern” to her “is the environment in which these inspectors operate -particularly the ease with which they move between industry and government. While not included in our report, we discovered that the individuals involved in the fraternizing and gift exchange – both government and industry – have often known one another since childhood.”

She also underlined to Salazar that “all of the conduct chronicled in this report occurred prior to 2007, and pre-dating your tenure as Secretary and your January 2009 Ethics Guide. While this conduct is dated, it is more evidence that there was, indeed, a much-needed change to the ethical culture of MMS.”

Federal regulations and agency ethics rules prohibit employees from soliciting or accepting gifts, including meals, costing more than $20, from a prohibited source.

Inspectors in the Lake Charles District accepted hunting and fishing trips from the Island Operating Company (IOC), an oil and gas production company, as well as tickets to sporting events such as the 2005 Peach Bowl, lunches and other gifts from representatives of oil and gas companies. MMS employees accepted invitations from oil and gas industry representatives to skeet-shooting contests, golf tournaments, crawfish boils, and Christmas parties. One offshore operating company provided a former MMS inspector — who now works for the IOC — with air transportation on a company plane to a college football game in Atlanta to watch the Louisiana State University play the University of Miami.

That former MMS inspector e-mailed to other MMS officials, on January 3, 2006, that “The 40 to 3 ass whipping LSU put on Miami was a lot more impressive in person. My daughter and I had a blast.”

“Two employees at the Lake Charles office also admitted to using illegal drugs during their employment at MMS,” Acting IG Kendall wrote. “We found that many of the inspectors had e-mails that contained inappropriate humor and pornography on their government computers. Finally, we determined that between June and July 2008, one MMS inspector conducted four inspections of IOC platforms while in the process of negotiating and later accepting employment with that company.”

By way of explanation, MMS Lake Charles District Manager Larry Williamson told the Acting Inspector General, “obviously, we’re all oil industry. We’re all from the same part of the country. Almost all of our inspectors have worked for oil companies out on these same platforms. They grew up in the same towns. Some of these people, they’ve been friends with all their life. They’ve been with these people since they were kids. They’ve hunted together. They fish together. They skeet shoot together … They do this all the time.”

The investigation was kicked off by anonymous letter, dated October 28, 2008, addressed to the U.S. Attorney’s office in New Orleans, LA. The Inspector General writes that after MMS supervisor Don Howard was fired the inappropriate behavior “appears to have drastically declined.”

-Jake Tapper

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