SHAHEEN: ABOLISH MINERALS MANAGEMENT SERVICE AND START ANEW
(Washington, D.C.)-U.S. Senator Jeanne Shaheen today called on Interior Secretary Ken Salazar to dismantle the Minerals Management Service (MMS) in order to end the culture of corruption and incompetence within the agency. Shaheen's letter comes on the heels of a report released by the Inspector General that describes MMS officials' unethical conduct prior to 2009, including illegal drug use, a culture of accepting gifts from oil and gas companies, falsification of inspection forms, and a revolving door of employment between MMS and the oil and gas industry. Salazar recently announced a reorganization of the troubled department, but Shaheen called for greater action.
"I fear that a culture of incompetence and corruption will still exist at the agency unless broad scale personnel changes accompany that reorganization," said Shaheen in the letter. "As you recently stated in the Senate Energy Committee in reference to reforming MMS, ‘we need to clean up that house.' I think we need to clean out that house. It is time to abolish MMS and start anew with a new agency and new people."
Shaheen's letter also follows reports by the New York Times and Washington Post that MMS officials repeatedly ignored scientific evidence about the environmental impact of drilling to expedite lease agreements with oil companies in exchange for cash bonuses.
The full text of the letter to Salazar follows:
Dear Secretary Salazar:
I am deeply troubled by the recent reports of the continued failings of the Minerals Management Service (MMS). The problems plaguing MMS transcend administrations - Democratic and Republican - and have been well documented. From bungling oil and gas leases in the Gulf of Mexico and depriving the federal treasury of billions of dollars in royalties to the ethics scandal of 2008 involving gifts, illegal drugs and sexual misconduct, MMS has had a culture of incompetence and corruption. This culture must change.
While the conduct detailed in the Inspector General's report released yesterday occurred prior to you becoming Secretary of the Interior, I am sure you share my outrage about the reports of illegal drug use, a culture of accepting gifts from oil and gas companies, e-mails involving inappropriate humor and pornography, falsification of inspection forms, and a revolving door of employment between MMS and the oil and gas industry.
A Washington Post article published May 25 describes the tendency of MMS officials to alter documents and ignore legal requirements for environmental protection to expedite the leasing process. The revelations that scientists have been silenced and warnings by other federal agencies ignored are a serious violation of the public trust and federal law. Moreover, it was disturbing to learn that MMS employees receive cash bonuses for meeting deadlines for offshore oil and gas exploration leases.
This is but the latest in a mounting body of evidence that suggests MMS is fundamentally broken and urgent steps must be taken to fix the agency.
While I appreciate your recent announcement that the Department will reorganize MMS, I fear that a culture of incompetence and corruption will still exist at the agency unless broad scale personnel changes accompany that reorganization. This fear is reinforced by the findings of the May 25 Inspector General Report. As you recently stated in the Senate Energy Committee in reference to reforming MMS, "We need to clean up that house." I think we need to clean out that house.
It is time to abolish MMS and start anew with a new agency and new people.
Thank you for your prompt attention to these concerns.
United States Senator
CC: Chairman Jeff Bingaman