Federal workers got gifts from oil companies

Government officials in charge of collecting billions of dollars in royalties from oil and gas companies engaged in illegal sex with industry employees and accepted meals, drinks, ski junkets and golf outings from major oil companies, internal investigators said Wednesday.

Interior Department Inspector General Earl Devaney released three reports implicating at least 19 current and former employees of the Minerals Management Service in relationships with industry employees.

The reports, released as Congress prepares to debate expansion of drilling in coastal waters off the Carolinas and elsewhere, raised new concerns about the management of programs that collect $8 billion in annual revenue from offshore and onshore mineral leases.

Danielle Brian, the executive director of the Project on Government Oversight, a nonpartisan watchdog group, said that “given the billions of dollars at stake, and number of people involved, this is easily the worst instance of government misconduct that POGO has seen.”

Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., the chairman of the Senate Energy Committee, called the reports “extremely troubling … especially given the potential for expanded domestic drilling.”

Devaney said that his investigators had “discovered a culture of substance abuse and promiscuity” in the recently created “royalty in kind” program, in which the government forgoes royalties and takes a share of the pumped oil and gas for resale. Several of the program's staffers, based in Washington and Denver, “admitted to illegal drug use as well as illicit sexual encounters.”

From 2002 to 2006, nearly a third of the RIK staff “socialized with, and received a wide array of gifts and gratuities from, oil and gas companies with whom (the program) was conducting official business,” Devaney said in a memo to Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne. While the dollar amounts of the gifts were “not enormous,” he wrote, the gifts came with “prodigious frequency,” with two RIK marketers accepting gifts and gratuities on at least 135 occasions.

The investigators found that 19 RIK employees had accepted gifts from prohibited sources in the oil and gas industry, and that most had taken gifts exceeding the agency thresholds of $20 in value per gift or $50 in value per year.

About half the employees have retired and are beyond the reach of disciplinary action, but Devaney said that the misconduct was so serious it might warrant the removal of some of nine current employees cited in the report.

Rep. Nick Rahall, D-W.Va., chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, said the report on the RIK unit's “outlandish” behavior “reads like a script from a television miniseries — and one that cannot air during family viewing time.”

Officials in the Interior Department and Minerals Management Service couldn't be reached for comment.

The reports said that the RIK unit's former Denver office director, Gregory Smith, encouraged his staff to develop close relationships with oil company officials so they could learn techniques for marketing the oil.

Separate investigative reports detailed evidence against Smith and Lucy Dennet, associate director of the Minerals Revenue Management office. They accuse Smith of having sex with two subordinates and with improperly accepting $30,000 from a private company for marketing its environmental and engineering services to oil and gas companies.

Dennet and an aide, Jimmy Mayberry, were accused of creating a lucrative contract to benefit Mayberry upon his retirement.

Devaney said that evidence against Smith and Dennet was referred to the Justice Department's Public Integrity Section, which declined to prosecute.

One report said Smith told investigators that he'd approved employees' attendance at industry events and their acceptance of meals and drinks.

Chevron, Shell, Gary-Williams Energy and Hess gave gifts to RIK staffers although they conducted business with the unit, either producing oil or buying it. Last May, investigators found that RIK staffers sometimes decided which company should win an oil contract in informal discussions among themselves and that dollar values of 118 of the sale contracts were later revised downward, costing taxpayers more than $4 million.

The investigators said that most industry representatives admitted entertaining RIK employees but denied that the gratuities were provided in exchange for official action. Several, however, rejected the assertion that federal employees needed to participate in industry events to perform their duties effectively.

One industry official, they wrote, said that no business was conducted. “It was about the skiing.”