| WASHINGTON, Sept 18
WASHINGTON, Sept 18 U.S. Interior Secretary Dirk
Kempthorne told Congress on Thursday he was "dismayed" about the
"inexcusable" behavior of some department employees who had sex,
used drugs and took gifts from workers at regulated oil and gas
Kempthorne testified at a House Natural Resources Committee
hearing on the findings by the Interior Department's inspector
general about "a culture of substance abuse and promiscuity" at
the department's Minerals Management Service (MMS), whose
employees handled billions of dollars in oil and natural gas
supplies that were turned over by companies as in-kind royalty
payments for drilling on federal lands.
"The abuse of the public trust in this instance is tragic,"
Kempthorne testified. "I am outraged that the public's trust,
an important and necessary part of public service, has been
In his findings, Interior Department Inspector General Earl
Devaney said about a dozen MMS workers in the royalty-in-kind
program took cocaine and marijuana and had "illicit sexual
Government workers also got drunk at social events with
employees of oil companies doing business with the agency and
MMS workers had "brief sexual relationships" with industry
contacts, the inspector general said.
The oil companies named in the report were Chevron (CVX.N),
Shell Oil (RDSa.L), Hess Corp (HES.N) and Gary Williams Energy
While all the companies provided documents, Devaney said
Chevron slowed the investigation by hiring counsel for its
employees, who then did not make themselves available
to be interviewed by the inspector general's investigators.
Democratic Rep. Nick Rahall, who heads the House committee,
asked whether "the cronyism between MMS employees and the oil
and gas companies" cost the government lost royalty revenue.
Devaney said "there probably were some losses" in royalty
money that should have been paid by the companies, but he has
no idea how much.
"Those contract files were in terrible shape" and could not
be audited, he said. However, Devaney said if the records had
been in order there may have been criminal prosecution of some
energy company workers.
Devaney said he did not uncover any evidence that energy
company workers were directed by their managers to provide
gifts to MMS employees. "I don't think it went too high," he
Devaney said he was disappointed that the Justice
Department decided against prosecuting some MMS employees for
their wrongdoing. "I would like to see a more aggressive
approach," he said.
Kempthorne said the MMS has accepted four recommendations
the inspector general made to clean up the agency, including
enhancing the ethics program for employees and boosting
oversight of the agency's Denver office where the
royalty-in-kind program is run.
(Reporting by Tom Doggett, editing by Matthew Lewis)