Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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May 25, 2010

MMS MANAGES TO LOOK EVEN MORE RIDICULOUS.... That the Minerals Management Service, the agency within the Interior Department responsible for offshore drilling, was farcical during the Bush/Cheney era isn't exactly a new revelation. MMS became one of the most corrupt government agencies in American history, embracing an anything-goes atmosphere that led to literally Caligula-like corruption and debauchery -- including federal officials trading cocaine and sex for lucrative oil contracts.

But as the BP oil spill disaster gets worse every day, and scrutiny of the scandal-plagued agency intensifies, new details make the Minerals Management Service look even more ridiculous.

Federal regulators responsible for oversight of drilling in the Gulf of Mexico allowed industry officials several years ago to fill in their own inspection reports in pencil — and then turned them over to the regulators, who traced over them in pen before submitting the reports to the agency, according to an inspector general's report to be released this week. [...]

The report includes other examples of troubling behavior discovered by investigators. In mid-2008, a minerals agency employee conducted four inspections on drilling platforms when he was also negotiating a job with the drilling company, a cover letter to the report said.

And an inspector from the Lake Charles office admitted to investigators that he had used crystal methamphetamine, an illegal drug. Investigators said they believe the inspector may have been under the influence of the drug during an inspection.

The department's acting inspector general, Mary L. Kendall, emphasized that all of the misconduct occurred before the Obama administration took office in January 2009. The Interior Department's efforts to clean up the MMS have been ongoing, and the agency's ethics code was overhauled soon after the transition between administrations.

Also today, the Washington Post reports that MMS officials "repeatedly ignored warnings from government scientists about environmental risks in its push to approve energy exploration activities quickly." Documents also show that the department "frequently changed documents and bypassed legal requirements aimed at protecting the marine environment."

We'll be dealing with the consequences for a very long time.

Steve Benen 9:40 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (32)

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Comments

"and once your gone, you can't come back. When your out of the blue
and into the black"

Posted by: ALLOYMAN on May 25, 2010 at 9:49 AM | PERMALINK

Their behaviors and actions go beyond dereliction of duty. The directors and inspectors should be held criminally liable. Starting with Chris Oynes.

Posted by: jcricket on May 25, 2010 at 9:51 AM | PERMALINK

First Obama should hammer HARD that this happened before his watch.

Second, he should just dissolve the agency. No new applications will be approved until a new agency is created. Do it by executive order and dare Congress to stop him. If they want to play filibuster games fine, the executive order stands.

Posted by: coltergeist on May 25, 2010 at 9:52 AM | PERMALINK


I'm on a mission
I made my decision
To lead a path of self destruction
A slow progression
Killing my complexion
And it's rotting out my teeth

I'm on a roll
No self control
I'm blowing off steam with methamphetamine
Don't know what I want
That's all that I've got
And I'm picking scabs off my face

Posted by: EdTheRed on May 25, 2010 at 9:53 AM | PERMALINK

I think you meant ... is not exactly a new revelation ...


Surely?

Posted by: Fleas correct the era on May 25, 2010 at 9:58 AM | PERMALINK

The malfeasance at MMS and the political injuries that will rightly accrue to the Obama administration are self-inflicted.

Obama and Holder's refusal to hold Cheney, Yoo, and the rest of the Bush administration tortuters accountable undermines their ability to punish anyone at MMS.

I know if I was the meth head guy, and they tried to punish me in any way, I take every opportunity to publically ask why what I did deserves punishment while torturers go free.

Posted by: Winkandanod on May 25, 2010 at 9:59 AM | PERMALINK

If you will read the Washington Post article, it's clear that MSM ignoring environmental warnings in a rush to approve oil leases has continued under the Obama administration. Although it does appear that the falsified reports, etc. stopped at the end of the Bush administration. Unless individuals, including MSM management, who participated in these activities are held accountable...and I mean firing, fines and prison time where appropriate, nothing is going to change in the long term. When the public gets distracted by another shiny object, corruption will simply continue.

Posted by: winddancer on May 25, 2010 at 10:01 AM | PERMALINK

Along with the Rand Paul discussion, this ought to magnify a counterattack against an uncritiqued political trend in this country. Libertarianism is not merely incoherent and - ultimately - nihilisitc, it's also incompetent to address actual problems. Not only does it not work as adverstised, but its precepts are virtual gibberish in light of ongoing environmental catastrophes. Republicans would love to make the BP disaster Obama's Katrina. The irony is that they would do so by impugning their own "principles". Their temptations and dangers are our opportunity.

Posted by: walt on May 25, 2010 at 10:02 AM | PERMALINK

MMS was, undoubtedly, one of the government agencies where Cheney (former Chairman and CEO of Halliburton, if you didn't know) took an personal interest. And there doesn't seem to be a lot of public information about that likely involvement. Even without gettin' all moralistic about it, isn't it a bit surprising that there's no serious questioning or investigation going on here?

Posted by: MattF on May 25, 2010 at 10:08 AM | PERMALINK

And how are things over at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission? They have the same production-oriented mindset.

While the country embarks on an expansion of nuclear reactors is it too much to ask that we have adequate oversight from the nuclear regulators? Enough already with the industry propaganda.

Posted by: Andy Olsen on May 25, 2010 at 10:19 AM | PERMALINK

Given that 'everyone knew' how corrupt MMS was, I think it's reasonable to ask why the Obama administration wasn't pushing harder to clean that up from day one. Yes, there's a lot on their plate and I'm not in any way trying to absolve the previous bunch of crooks or suggest 'equivalence'... but that does not put our guys above reproach. And I'm losing patience quickly.

Posted by: short fuse on May 25, 2010 at 10:27 AM | PERMALINK

Can there be any real doubt that--with the addition of a few colorful flourishes, e.g. sex and cocaine--this was the policy of the Bush administration and in perfect accord with Republican party aims and goals? Until things like this are seen not as aberrations but part of deliberate and systematic abuse of power, we are not going to make much forward progress.

Posted by: J on May 25, 2010 at 10:33 AM | PERMALINK

Even without gettin' all moralistic about it, isn't it a bit surprising that there's no serious questioning or investigation going on here?

I think it's reasonable to ask why the Obama administration wasn't pushing harder to clean that up from day one.

"Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said that he found the report “deeply disturbing,” and that the actions it found were why, “during the first 10 days of becoming secretary of the interior, I directed a strong ethics reform agenda to clean house of these ethical lapses at M.M.S.”"

"At least seven inspectors cited in the report as having been involved in inappropriate or illegal activities were still employed by the agency when the report was completed in March. Interior officials said the employees cited in the report would be placed on administrative leave pending the outcome of a personnel review."

From the NYT link listed as "new details".

Posted by: flyonthewall on May 25, 2010 at 10:40 AM | PERMALINK

I have to agree somewhat with winkandnod. Whether anyone should have been prosecuted for torture is hard to say. That is "prosecutorial discretion" and part of that discretion is deciding whether you can win after a long and drawn out case. Personally I leaned towards it, if for nothing more than a nationally cathartic moment. But the Obama administration could have at least disbarred Yoo and Bybee for authoring that crap.

Obama seems to be trying to just slide through history without doing much of anything. While I am pleased that he is "notBush" he really needs to be more proactive...about something!!

Posted by: coltergeist on May 25, 2010 at 10:41 AM | PERMALINK

Investigators said they believe the inspector may have been under the influence of the drug (speed) during an inspection.

Kinda gives new meaning to the concept of "tweaking" a report.

Posted by: cwolf on May 25, 2010 at 10:51 AM | PERMALINK

"I think it's reasonable to ask why the Obama administration wasn't pushing harder to clean that up from day one. "

Uh, did you even READ the post, let alone the story?

"The department's acting inspector general, Mary L. Kendall, emphasized that all of the misconduct occurred before the Obama administration took office in January 2009. The Interior Department's efforts to clean up the MMS have been ongoing, and the agency's ethics code was overhauled soon after the transition between administrations."

Posted by: Andy Olsen on May 25, 2010 at 10:57 AM | PERMALINK

If you think Bush/Cheney loaded up Justice and FEMA with crooks and cronies, you haven't seen anything. MMS was responsible for more income to the country than all departments except IRS. Remember a couple of years ago when they discovered the case of underpaid royalties for wells in the Gulf of Mexico? It all died down after the shit hit the fan on Wall St. but, there was probably 40 billion that disappeared in royalty payments owed to we the people.
The salting of MMS with crooks began with the Reagan team.

Posted by: Jim B on May 25, 2010 at 10:57 AM | PERMALINK

A little unfair to Caligula I'd say. At least he had an excuse.

Posted by: Gene O'Grady on May 25, 2010 at 11:06 AM | PERMALINK

I definitely fall on the side of those who wish that the Obama WH would aggressively go after the Bush WH for all its wrong-doing--from war crimes and gutting the treasury to their failure to address our energy addiction and setting the stage for environmental catastrophe.

But when I look at the nuttiness of the still lively and well-funded conservative movement--from Fox news to the Tea Party activists to Sarah Palin--I wonder about too direct confrontation; a direct attack would just enflame their paranoia and resistance. I don't think we can change their minds, but we might be able to persuade the low information voter in the middle. Obama's approach seems to be to let the nutters destroy their credibility themselves.

In the end, what I want most of all is a functioning nation, not vengeance. Though as I see the oil washing up on the beaches of Louisiana, vengeance sounds sweet.

Posted by: PTate in MN on May 25, 2010 at 11:09 AM | PERMALINK

Well, geez, Gene O'Grady, Helen Mirren was a major "excuse".

However, is this a prime example of Shrub packing departments with his zealots, who would be covered by Civil Service rules?

Posted by: berttheclock on May 25, 2010 at 11:17 AM | PERMALINK

Salazar might have taken care of the ethical lapses, but the industry-handmaiden mindset remained intact, and does so to this day -- companies are still being given environmental waivers, which makes the drilling "moratorium" meaningless. Environmentalists warned from the get-go that Salazar was too cozy with industry, and they were right.

Also, Steve, you say "federal officials traded cocaine and sex for lucrative oil contracts." It was the other way around -- they traded the contracts for the sex and drugs.

Posted by: gradysu on May 25, 2010 at 11:30 AM | PERMALINK

I too wonder at the lack of vigorous prosecution, unless there is something we don't know about. It's a sad comment about the present state of the country--nay and absolute disgrace--that torture is regarded as 'controversial' and that efforts to prosecute those guilty of crimes against humanity would most likely be regarded as 'political' score settling. But I don't see how garden variety corruption can be so viewed. Sure the guilty are Bush appointees, but the members of the Bush admin and their supporters who were happy to step forward in defense of 'enhanced interrogation techniques' are hardly going to do the same for these people, from whom I expect they'll do everything to distance themselves. Or am I wrong about this? (Not that I think failing to elicit objections from Republicans should be a necessary condition for taking action.)

Posted by: J on May 25, 2010 at 11:32 AM | PERMALINK

I certainly hope the "new details" popping up about the MMS show a concerned and ongoing effort to clean up this agency (among many others) when Obama stepped in. I would like to know more details about the inspectors that were/are on administrative leave and when and who hired them. Let's shed some light on these idiots and the idiots who hired them. No wonder our government isn't working...it still has too many carry-overs from the last administration (how I hope the current administration is truly cleaning house). If not, there lies my frustration and deep disappointment.

Posted by: whichwitch on May 25, 2010 at 11:49 AM | PERMALINK

Coltergeist, Obama doesn't have the legal authority to disbar anyone. The Bar Association does that. That's why they call it the Bar Association, duh!

Yeah, I guess Obama is just trying to slide through without doing much besides the Lily Ledbetter Law, health care reform, reform of financial institutions, pulling the economy back from the brink of disaster, repealing DADT, and cleaning up the MMS. But dammit, aside from the acquaduct, the roads, the sanitation and the schools, WHAT have the Romans done for us?!?!?

Posted by: T-Rex on May 25, 2010 at 12:02 PM | PERMALINK

Time to update the Wikipedia entry for 'Fascism' again!

Posted by: JTK on May 25, 2010 at 1:09 PM | PERMALINK

I know if I was the meth head guy, and they tried to punish me in any way, I take every opportunity to publically ask why what I did deserves punishment while torturers go free.

Given the polling about torture, the answer from the American people would be, "Because you're a meth head, and that's worse than torturing terrorists. In fact, let's send you to Guantanamo, too!"

Sorry, but if you're expecting a huge burst of moral outrage from ordinary Americans over torture, you're going to have a long wait. You're going to have an even longer wait if you expect them to be sympathetic to a drug user.

Posted by: Mnemosyne on May 25, 2010 at 1:29 PM | PERMALINK

The Minerals Malfeasance Service needs a total replacement, not merely a "divide" between the two conflicting assignments. Ken Salazar is too benignly oriented for his job. Obama needs to grow a spine. BP needs to be fined into oblivion -- they never learned from their previous foulups, and won't learn from this one. Messing up is their M.O.

Posted by: Regina on May 25, 2010 at 2:03 PM | PERMALINK

Just what are Obamastration's legal and practical options for forcing out Bush moles and cleaning up in various ways? Are they trying hard enough? (Real scoop is most helpful., tx,)

Posted by: Neil B on May 25, 2010 at 2:30 PM | PERMALINK

MMS should be given the boot and the government should start over. MM's, corrupt, scandal-laden history makes it's continued existence totally unacceptable.. The exposure of this mind-boggling exercise in government gone wrong may be the only good thing to come out of the Gulf oil spill. Heads should roll but they won't. The tale of the extent of MMS's criminal and utterly uncontrolled or overseen malfeasance would make the sturdiest supporter of the need for government oversight give up the good fight. I do believe that this is a scandalous and destructive example of irresponsible, reckless corruption resulting in the jaunty indifference it bred in those whose jobs it is to keep our country safe.

Posted by: marya on May 25, 2010 at 2:46 PM | PERMALINK

Yeah, I'm disappointed that the Obama Administration hasn't resolved all of the systemic problems with the government that were left by the previous administration(s). I mean, Obama got ALL of his nominations confirmed by the Senate in his first couple months, and those folks got to work right away, so what's the problem? It's not like there have been some nominees sitting around in limbo for months...

Posted by: josef on May 25, 2010 at 3:51 PM | PERMALINK

josef, no doubt the Republicans have used every tactic in the book to stall Obama's nominations for key positions. They are deliberately making it impossible to govern...but something has got to give or this country will only be spinning it's wheels and going nowhere but downhill.
What's the solution?

Posted by: whichwitch on May 25, 2010 at 5:22 PM | PERMALINK

We lived in Denver during the heydey of the MMS and it was a tabloid writer's delight: sex, orgies, booze, drugs, money under the table, you name it. Indeed, it's too bad that The National Enquirer wasn't on the story; it would have broken years earlier. Anyone who wonders why that cesspool hasn't been cleaned up yet hasn't been paying attention to either MMS's long history of corruption or the GOP's delight in obstruction.

Posted by: Mandy Cat on May 25, 2010 at 7:30 PM | PERMALINK




 

 

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