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In Bed With Big Oil

Hartford Courant

In Bed With Big Oil

Hartford  Courant

If you believe the phrase “ethical government” is an oxymoron, here’s a story for you:

“A culture of ethical failure” pervades the Minerals Management Service of the U.S. Department of the Interior. So says Earl E. Devaney, inspector general, in three reports to Congress.

Mr. Devaney has a gift for understatement. His findings reveal a culture of sex, drugs and criminal abuse of taxpayer dollars at the Colorado-based agency that is mind-blowing.

He found wrongdoing by a dozen employees of the agency responsible for collecting royalties for oil and gas on government land, including some high-ranking officials. 

A third of the staff accepted gifts from members of the oil and gas industry. Partying with them was apparently common and involved drinking, taking drugs and having sex. Their bad management cost taxpayers billions.

Among the most egregious abusers of the public trust was Lucy Q. Denett, former associate director of minerals revenue management. She allegedly steered a lucrative consulting contract to an aide and friend after he retired. That aide, Jimmy W. Mayberry, pleaded guilty to a felony conflict of interest charge in August and awaits sentencing. But here’s the rub: His boss will escape prosecution because she retired before the investigation was complete. 

Equally lucky is Gregory W. Smith, who used his position to get an outside consulting job helping others make deals with oil and gas companies with which Mr. Smith conducted official business. 

He reportedly was among the agency horde that accepted gifts from those companies. He also engaged in sex with subordinates and used cocaine purchased from his secretary, reportedly during working hours.

Congress must insist that the Justice Department prosecute these thieves. This stuff is even worse than what former Gov. John G. Rowland or former state Treasurer Paul Silvester did time for. 

Here’s the punch line: Federal officials told investigators that the gifts and socializing didn’t affect how they handled their official duties. Yipes. This is so high on the sleaze scale it makes a taxpayer want to head for a hot shower.

As government agencies go, this is high-stakes dysfunction. The Minerals Management Service collects $10 billion in royalties annually, one of the government’s largest sources of revenue, not counting taxes. 

These reports ought to give Congress yet another reason to protect taxpayer assets and nix more drilling in coastal waters. 

http://www.courant.com/news/opinion/editorials/hc-oily.artsep12,0,5444546.story

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