MMS ethics violations included drugs, bribery, and cheating

By Jean Williams, Environmental Policy Examiner

.. The corruption of the Mineral Management Service has been revealed in a shocking report by the U.S. Inspector General. It exposed a lax culture of complacency and arrogance, where MMS executives accepted gifts, money, sports tickets, drugs, vacations, and jobs from numerous oil corporations-- not just BP.

Federal investigators found that oil employees would fill in maintenance test documents with pencil and the inspectors would finalize the reports by going over the content with ink.

While the world is reeling from the worst natural disaster in U.S. history and heart-wrenching photographs of dead dolphins, oil covered brown pelicans, sea turtles, and other marine life, are circulating in the media and on the Internet daily—the result of the Inspector General’s investigation is particularly offensive.

Reportedly, Alaska officials handed out cash bonuses to insiders, who would expedite the permit process. At the same time, biologists and marine scientists were basically censored if they dared to raise any red flags or warnings of any potential disasters—like what happened on April 20.

In response to the Department of the Interior’s Inspector General report released on Tuesday, Center for Biological Diversity Executive Director Kierán Suckling said:

“The Inspector General report released today highlights the ongoing failures of the Minerals Management Service, which is riddled with illegal drug use, bribery, and, worst of all, falsification of inspection reports crucial to ensuring the safe operation of drill rigs in our waters,” said Kieran Suckling, Executive Director for Center for Biological Diversity. “MMS safety inspectors taking drugs on oil platforms is bad enough, but falsifying reports and allowing the industry to ghostwrite their inspections is completely outrageous."

According the report, former employees from MMS are currently working in organizations that gives them the ability to directly influence policies that would have a favorable outcome to offshore drilling and the energy industry. A major conflict of interest.

Representative Nick J. Rahall II, Democrat of West Virginia and the chairman of the Natural Resources Committee, said the report clearly shows the agency was dysfunctional. “These newly revealed ethical lapses among agency personnel puts M.M.S. in the penalty box indefinitely,” said Rahall.

Interior Secretary Salazar plans to reorganize the MMS, by dividing it into three separate agencies. In a previous investigation of MMS not long after Salazar was appointed, a half a dozen people were given disciplinary action and 2 people were fired.

It is important to note that all the ethical discretions in the IG’s report took place under the Bush administration from 2005 to 2008. Secretary Salazar has asked the IG’s office to investigate to see if there have been any ethics violations after his initial effort at reform.

Some people feel that the MMS agency should be completely dismantled and rebuilt from the ground up, but that would penalize the multitude of people who did their jobs correctly. Not everyone was involved in the corruption or that would have been uncovered by the Inspector General.

On Wednesday, the world will be holding its collective breath as BP tries the most promising procedure so far to temporarily cap the Deepwater Horizon after it exploded on April 20, killing 11 men and launching the gushing oil assault on the ocean, which has become the worst oil spill in U.S. history and will ultimately dwarf the damage by the Exxon Valdez.

President Obama will make his second visit to Louisiana on Friday. Obama’s frustration over the oil spill has been getting more evident in recent days. After the oil executives gave their testimony to the senate, he called it a “ridiculous spectacle” and it was reported by a staffer that Obama lost his usual composure in a White House closed door meeting this week when he reportedly said:

“Plug the damn hole”.

***Jean Williams 2010

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