Interior Secretary Ken Salazar is asking the Justice Department to review ethical scandals at the department and considering an overhaul of the Minerals Management Service’s royalty program.
Salazar made the announcement after a meeting with MMS employees at the agency’s offices in Lakewood, Colo. The agency was the subject of scandal in September: A report from the department’s inspector general highlighted illegal drug use by employees and a cozy relationship with the energy companies MMS regulates.
MMS is responsible for collecting royalties from oil and gas projects on federal lands.
Justice decided not to prosecute two high-ranking employees cited in the report, and they couldn’t be punished internally because they had already left the agency. Salazar is asking the Justice Department to review that decision; he also wants Interior to review the personnel actions it took against employees who still work for MMS.
Salazar appointed his chief of staff, Tom Strickland, to head the review. Strickland is a former U.S. Attorney for Colorado.
â€œThe President has made it clear that the type of ethical transgressions, blatant conflicts of interest, wastes and abuses that we have seen over the past eight years will no longer be tolerated,â€ Salazar said. â€œThe Department of the Interior will raise the bar for ethics.â€
He will also review the agency’s controversial â€œroyalty-in-kindâ€ program, which collects royalties as oil or gas instead of money. The agency sells those products to refineries and sends most of the revenue to the Treasury Department.
But critics say the program often brings in lower revenues than comparable cash royalty programs. And a Federal Times analysis last year found that MMS often sells oil at less than market value.
â€œWe need a system that delivers a fair value to the taxpayer, is straightforward and transparent, and is less vulnerable to the type of abuses we have seen,â€ Salazar said.