Early this year, just after the Reagan administration lifted oil price controls, there was much concern that budget cuts in the Energy Department's Economic Regulatory Administration (ERA) would result in amnesty for oil companies accused of price and allocation violations during 7 1/2 years of controls. The General Accounting Office had estimated that $13 billion in overcharges were unsettled and administration officials promised Congress, "no amnesty." The ERA was given until next Sept. 30 to clear its backlog before going out of business.
After some weeks spent largely in reorganizing the doomed agency, new ERA chief Rayburn Hanzlik succeeded in reducing the $13 billion estimate to a much lower, undefined, level by calling it "grossly inflated" and the result of audits, he said, that were "not always high quality. They didn't always look at the right things."
Hanzlik said his review of price control enforcement shows the ERA has recovered only 15 cents for the public from each dollar of pricing violation it alleged. "We hope to do better," he said. Companies that do not settle, he said, could eventually "be faced with litigation conducted by the Justice Department. Either they settle between now and September, or they are going to be keeping a lot of lawyers comfortable . . . "