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article imageOp-Ed: Bizarre tales of U.S. Interior Department agency gone feral

By Paul Wallis     Sep 11, 2008 in Politics
You don’t often see The New York Times trying so hard not to sound like The Sun. They do have an excuse: They were stuck with the facts. The Minerals Management Service agency, which handles $10 billion in revenue, was obviously feeling "newsy".
When somebody gets round to actually running the country, they’ll notice that not all is sunshine and lollipops in the US public sector.
But things have apparently had a nice rosy glow in the Interior Department. According to the reports, management and a claque of hangers-on have been saving the world from amounts of cocaine, while accepting gifts from the energy industry, and avoiding any undue sexual frustration in performance of these duties.
As The New York Times reports:
...the Interior Department agency that collects oil and gas royalties has been caught up in a wide-ranging ethics scandal — including allegations of financial self-dealing, accepting gifts from energy companies, cocaine use and sexual misconduct.
The agency is actually/theoretically supposed to be involved in handling royalties from energy companies. However, innovation appears to have advanced this trite role to something far more mutually benevolent.
The report says that eight officials in the royalty program accepted gifts from energy companies whose value exceeded limits set by ethics rules — including golf, ski and paintball outings; meals and drinks; and tickets to a Toby Keith concert, a Houston Texans football game and a Colorado Rockies baseball game.
The investigation also concluded that several of the officials “frequently consumed alcohol at industry functions, had used cocaine and marijuana, and had sexual relationships with oil and gas company representatives.”
Point being, that you’re not supposed to be accepting any favors from the people you’re supposed to be policing. That’s what the ethics rules say.
That’s also a sackable offense, in government agencies, although epidemics of terminations seem to be relatively few.
Then there’s this gem, in which the agency guy that wrote the contract rules retired from the agency, then got the contract, with a bit of help from management:
In one of the new reports, investigators concluded that Ms. Denett worked with two aides to steer a lucrative consulting contract to one of the aides after he retired, violating competitive procurement rules.
Two other reports focus on “a culture of substance abuse and promiscuity” in the service’s royalty-in-kind program. That part of the agency collects about $4 billion a year in oil and gas rather than cash royalties.
The New York Times manages to pack all the details into 3 fun-filled, expensive, web pages with some difficulty, and what look like signs of editorial horror.
(There are visible claw marks on some of the copy.)
Prosecutions? No way. At least one of the people involved is a public sector lifer, with 28 years of service, who the Justice Department has declined to prosecute despite statements. The manager mentioned above, Ms. Denett, is also not to be prosecuted.
These non-prosecutions are based on “departmental policy”, which may well mean something, but apparently nobody bothered to tell the NYT what it means, what the policy is, or any other trivial information like that.
Meaning the Dept Justice comments have to be taken on face value, the presumption of innocence is upheld, and nobody has a clue what's happening, not happening, or why.
The various snippets would make good content on any celebrity blog. There's so much of this stuff you have to read it to disbelieve it.
Meanwhile, back in the barn:
The report also detailed cozy relationships between energy companies and other officials in the royalty-in-kind program office. Some 19 officials — a third of the staff — took gifts from oil and gas executives, some with “prodigious frequency,” it said.
On one occasion in 2002, the report said, two of the officials who marketed taxpayers’ oil got so drunk at a daytime golfing event sponsored by Shell that they could not drive to their hotels and were put up in Shell-provided lodging. Two female employees “engaged in brief sexual relationships with industry contacts,” the reports’ cover memo said, adding that “sexual relationships with prohibited sources cannot, by definition, be arms’ length.”
So let’s recap:
1. It’s taken six years for this holiday camp to get any actual public scrutiny.
2. Apparently there was some whistle blowing, but not much happened.
3. The main players have moved on.
4. Nobody seems to intend to do anything, despite outrage from Senators.
Bemused Americans (there may be one or two, somewhere) could be wondering who was responsible for this little bit of Bureaucrat's Disneyland, up the food chain.
In theory, you go up the line to the Department of the Interior, which has a nice gingerbread house somewhere in Washington, and there you find the kindly Secretary of the Interior, who drives a reindeer and has a nice smile.
If you ask nicely, you might get a press comment.
Or not.
In this case, not, either because everybody's now working on their freeloading schedules for the next administration, or nobody can be bothered.
“All the news you’ve got any hope of printing…”
Suggestion to NYT:
Try some antihistamines.
Maybe they’ve even got some of that promiscuity left.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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