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Thursday, January 29, 2009

INTERIOR DEPARTMENT

Boss Promises Tight Ship

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar vowed Wednesday to clean house at his department, ridding it of the "ethical transgressions, the blatant conflicts of interests, wastes and abuses that we have seen over the last eight years."

Speaking to reporters in Washington, Salazar said he would travel on Thursday to the Lakewood, Colo., office of the Minerals Management Service, which was implicated in a series of scandals during the past several years.

Last fall, Interior's inspector general issued a scathing report accusing several MMS officials of engaging in sex and using drugs with oil and gas industry representatives, in addition to accepting gifts from them. In November, half a dozen employees were disciplined and some were fired.

"Some of the employees of that office violated the public trust by accepting gifts and employment contracts from the very oil and gas companies that they were supposed to be holding accountable," he said. "Some employees engaged in blatant and criminal conflicts of interest and self-dealing. It is one of the worst examples of corruption, abuse and of government putting special interests before the public interest."

The secretary did not mince words, essentially blaming the Bush administration for failing to impose tough ethical standards on the department, which oversees federal lands. He also cited the 2007 criminal conviction of Steven Griles, who served as deputy interior secretary under Bush and pleaded guilty to lying to a Senate panel about his connection to disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff.

Salazar said his efforts to clean up the department are part of broader efforts by the Obama administration to abide by new standards in government. In an interview with The Washington Post on Tuesday, Salazar said he had already circulated a memo about ethics to the department's employees, putting them on notice that as Colorado's former attorney general he would not tolerate further transgressions.

"There's a new sheriff in town," he said. "We need to restore the integrity and respect of the department."

-- Michael D. Shear and Juliet Eilperin

RECESSION CASUALTIES


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