Deputy budget director Joseph R. Wright Jr. said yesterday that reports that he interceded with the Energy Department on behalf of an oil company headed by his father had been "blown way out of proportion," and that he merely set up a meeting between department and company officials.
Wright, subject of three federal investigations, appeared on Capitol Hill yesterday to testify for legislation to combat fraud, waste and bribery in the federal government.
Wright told a Senate committee it should adopt legislation to prosecute frauds and false claims involving less than $100,000, and raise certain fines from $2,000 to $5,000.
The Senate Governmental Affairs Committee had planned to question Wright about the reports of his 1982 phone call on behalf of Anchor Gasoline Corp. of Tulsa. But after a short recess, the panel agreed to delay Wright's sworn testimony until Monday to give him time to prepare.
Anchor Gasoline Corp. is headed by Wright's father, Joseph R. Wright Sr.
Before the younger Wright phoned the Energy Department, it was seeking $16 million for alleged violations of price controls. Since then, the department has taken no action in the case.
"I had nothing to do with the case," Wright said in an interview after the hearing. "I recused myself from it and other Energy Department matters."
He said he telephoned Rayburn Hanzlick, head of the DOE's Economic Regulatory Administration, to set up a meeting between Anchor officials and Energy Department lawyers to settle the case. Such meetings were a "not uncommon" occurrence, he said.
Wright said that if he wanted to influence the department's investigation of Anchor, he "could've called up a senator to take care of it."
He said the stock he owns in Anchor, worth more than $250,000, was transferred to him from his father "some time ago." The senior Wright is chairman of the company, which is about 20 percent owned by the family.
Wright, the No. 2 man at the Office of Management and Budget, said that he "could not have been more careful" in avoiding a semblance of conflict.
"I wanted no special favors," he said, "and I made it clear that this was a family company so that if there was any conflict of interest, I did not want to be involved."
Wright limited his testimony yesterday to proposals for combating waste in government and to the Grace commission report on that subject.
The head of the commission, J. Peter Grace, also appeared before the committee to defend his recommendations for cost-cutting. Grace's testimony was punctuated by arguments with Sen. Thomas F. Eagleton (D-Mo.).
Grace and Eagleton exchanged accusations of lying about the commission recommendations.
Eagleton termed the savings projected by Grace "outlandish" and "unfounded."
Grace called Eagleton's objections to the report "baloney" and "lies."