Slimy doings weren't all at the oil well

Cleanup and containment efforts continue at the Gulf of Mexico site of the oil spill following the Deepwater Horizon explosion.
By Dana Milbank
Wednesday, May 26, 2010; 11:22 PM

Sounds as if it may be time for a top kill at the Interior Department.

A mile below sea level in the Gulf of Mexico, BP was trying on Wednesday to jam mud and concrete into its leaking oil well -- the so-called "top kill" -- to choke off the flow. At the same time, lawmakers on Capitol Hill were puzzling over how to contain the flow of corruption that has been oozing in recent years from the Interior Department -- specifically its Minerals Management Service, which is supposed to regulate oil drilling but instead seems to be a wholly owned subsidiary of the oil industry.

MMS -- "it now stands for Misconduct, Mismanagement and Spills" -- posited Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) -- has kept the Interior Department's inspector general quite busy of late.

A year and a half ago, inspectors found MMS workers in Lakewood, Colo., engaging in sex and drug use with oil industry representatives, taking payments from oil companies, and rigging contracts for them.

On Tuesday, the inspector general came out with another report, this one on the MMS office in Lake Charles, La. This time, MMS inspectors and family traveled to the Peach Bowl in Atlanta on a plane owned by an offshore oil company; took free meals, hunting trips and fishing trips from companies; and in one case negotiated a job with a company while inspecting its facilities.

More troubling than the infractions, though, was the explanation given by the MMS district manager. "Obviously, we're all oil industry," he said. "Almost all of our inspectors have worked for oil companies out on these same platforms."

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar took the few-bad-apples approach to defending the MMS before the House Natural Resources Committee. "My belief is that most of the employees of MMS are good public servants," he said. He added that "there are bad apples within the organization, and what we have done is we have taken appropriate personnel actions."

Salazar granted that the Peach Bowl outing and the rest "are reprehensible," but, he made sure to add, they "predated this administration." He and his colleagues, he said, "came into this department to clean up that mess."

Republicans weren't about to let the blame-Bush argument go unchecked. "You and others keep harping on what MMS did or didn't do in the previous administration," countered Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-Colo.). "Why aren't we talking about the here and now?"

"Unlike the prior administration," Salazar shot back, "this is not the candy store of the oil and gas kingdom which you and others were a part of."

Republicans on the dais smiled and shook their heads.

Salazar, a former Democratic senator from Colorado, went on to say that "there was a coziness with industry where industry was running the show. We have changed that."

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