[JURIST] US Secretary of the Interior Dirk Kempthorne [official profile] pledged Thursday that he would "take swift action to restore the public trust" following an investigation which found corruption in the Department of the Interior (DOI) [official website; JURIST news archive] agency charged with collecting royalties from mineral rights to federal land. In a memorandum accompanying reports [text] released Wednesday, DOI Inspector General Earl E. Devaney [official website] highlighted a "pervasive culture of exclusivity" in the Minerals Management Service (MMS) [official website], where some employees considered themselves "exempt from the rules that govern all other employees of the Federal Government." Devaney recommended that Kempthorne consider firing some employees who remain at the MMS, in addition to those who have already left or been disciplined. Devaney wrote:
In summary, our investigation revealed a relatively small group of individuals wholly lacking in acceptance of or adherence to government ethical standards; management that through passive neglect, at best, or purposeful ignorance, at worst, was blind to easily discernible misconduct; and a program that had aggressive goals and admirable ideals, but was launched without the necessary internal controls in place to ensure conformity with one of its most important principles: "Maintain the highest ethical and professional standards." This must be corrected.Devaney singled out the Royalty in Kind program (RIK) [official website], the office responsible for sales of commercial oil and gas commodities. There, employees "donned a private sector approach to essentially everything they did" and even considered formally opting themselves out of the Ethics in Government Act [text]. Devaney found that some RIK employees had accepted gifts from oil and gas companies "with prodigious frequency"; engaged in "a culture of substance abuse and promiscuity," including sexual relationships with business associates, and held prohibited outside employment that they failed to disclose. AP has more. The Washington Post has additional coverage.
Devaney's office spent two years and more than $5 million on the investigations, during which which about 230 people were interviewed and roughly 470,000 pages of documents were reviewed. One former employee has pleaded guilty [DOJ press release] to a felony conflict-of-interest charge, while others were referred to the Public Integrity Section of the Department of Justice (DOJ) [official websites] but have not been prosecuted. That conviction was the second related to corruption at the DOI since last year, when former Deputy Interior Secretary J. Steven Griles pleaded guilty [JURIST report] to obstruction of justice for lying to the Senate Indian Affairs Committee about his relationship with former lobbyist Jack Abramoff [JURIST news archive]. Griles was sentenced [JURIST report] to 10 months in prison for his role in the lobbying scandal.