Interior secretary to clean up after oil-sex scandal

WASHINGTON Wed Jan 28, 2009 8:18pm GMT

Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar speaks at the daily press briefing at the White House in Washington, January 28, 2009. REUTERS/Jim Young

Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar speaks at the daily press briefing at the White House in Washington, January 28, 2009.

Credit: Reuters/Jim Young

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Obama administration will take action to clean up the Interior Department which was tarnished by sex, drug and gift-taking scandals between some employees and workers at energy companies they regulated, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said on Wednesday.

Salazar told White House reporters that he will "make sure that scandals that have occurred in the past are properly dealt with and that the problems that we uncover are fixed so that they don't occur again."

Salazar will travel on Thursday to the department's field office in Colorado -- the eye of the scandal storm -- to discuss what has been done to address the problem and additional steps that need to be taken.

"The type of ethical transgressions, the blatant conflicts of interests, wastes, and abuses that we have seen over the last eight years (under the Bush administration) will no longer be tolerated," Salazar said.

The department's inspector general, Earl Devaney, found there was "a culture of substance abuse and promiscuity" among employees at the department's Minerals Management Service, which handles billions of dollars in oil and natural gas supplies that are turned over by companies as in-kind royalty payments for drilling on federal lands.

During his two-year investigation, the inspector general said about a dozen MMS workers in the royalty-in-kind program used cocaine and marijuana and had "illicit sexual encounters."

Government workers 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, he said.

The inspector general has told Congress "there probably were some losses" in royalty money that should have been paid by the companies, but he had no idea how much.

In addition to the wrongdoing by the MMS employees in the Colorado field office, Salazar pointed out that Steven Griles, the former deputy interior secretary, was sentenced to prison in 2007 for obstruction of justice in the investigation of lobbyist Jack Abramoff.

"It will be clear that we will no longer tolerate those types of lapses at any level of government from political appointees or career employees," Salazar said. "The American people should be proud of their government, all of their government."

(Reporting by Tom Doggett; editing by Jim Marshall)

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