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Congress Blinded by that Black Gold

The Interior Department's Minerals Management Service (MMS) has enjoyed a quiet and relatively little- known existence, at least beyond the beltway, and perhaps even just beyond a few oil industry execs and energy enthusiasts.

One of the benefits of primarily dealing with an industry that owns the Congress lock, stock and barrel is that Committees of jurisdiction--namely, the House Resources Committee and the Senate Energy and Commerce Committee--shows near complete disinterest in holding hearings or conducting oversight at all. After all, conducting oversight might actually improve the ability of the MMS to collect billions of dollars in drilling fees from the oil and gas industry, an outcome at odds with the industry's agenda of paying less for the petroleum products it takes from federal and Indian lands. For example, neither one of those Committees held hearings on oil royalty ripoffs, even though federal fraud litigation brought in a $440 million settlement and industry whistleblowers tooted their horns. Ultimately, fixes to the MMS' oil royalty collections were made against the wishes of those Committees' Chairmen.

Thankfully, House Subcommittee on Energy and Natural Resources Chairman Darrell Issa doesn't seem to see things this way. Tomorrow, Issa will hold his third hearing on the MMS' fumbling of deep water leases in the Gulf of Mexico, a mistake which could end up costing the government dearly, by some estimates $20 BILLION in oil drilling fees.

However, in many Washington scandals, the coverup is often much worse than the original crime. That appears to be the salient theme of testimony expected from the Department of Interior's Inspector General Earl Devaney over the MMS foible. According to today's New York Times, on August 3rd, Chairman Issa and House Government Reform Committee Chairman Tom Davis rolled out the red carpet to new Interior Department Secretary Dirk Kempthorne with accusations that Interior has obstructed their investigation as well, saying: "We are deeply concerned that the department may have intentionally withheld critical information from the subcommittee."

By: Beth Daley
Director of Investigations, POGO

At the time of publication, Beth Daley was the Director of Investigations for the Project On Government Oversight.

Authors: Beth Daley

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