As recently as May 10, Interior Undersecretary Donald P. Hodel said that the 4-month-old Minerals Management Service would not be expanding its turf any further. But a May 18 memo suggests that not everyone at the minerals service got the message.

"We believe," MMS Deputy Director Dave Russell wrote in the memo, "those items identified by the U.S. Geological Survey as research, which involve the provision of resource information, estimation of oil and gas resources, geologic synthesis of Outer Continential Shelf information and assessments in support of leasing programs for minerals other than oil and gas, should also be consolidated in the MMS."

Interior sources say Russell and Hodel are begining to battle over bureaucratic blocks, with the first being the 160 staff members of the Geological Survey's coal division. "We're frightened," said one coal division staffer, who said Interior hasn't consulted with USGS Director Dallas Peck. "We know they want us to do things we weren't hired to do."

But departmental spokesman Douglas Baldwin said, "The folks at the coal division are trying to alarm you, using the newspaper to knock down a straw man. This memorandum does not indicate a decision has been made to shift the coal division."