The U.S. Department of the Interior may have ignored possible ethical violations in the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), allowing oil and gas regulators to yet again get too close to the industry they are charged with overseeing, according to a letter the Project On Government Oversight (POGO) sent Tuesday to Interior Secretary Ken Salazar.
Department of the Interior Inspector General (IG) reports in 2006 and 2009 reveal a cozy relationship between management in the Bureau’s Casper, Wyo. field office, and seem to indicate a lax attitude in the BLM toward the enforcement of ethical guidelines, POGO Executive Director Danielle Brian wrote.
“The problems in the Casper office point to a systemic problem in the Bureau of Land Management and its enforcement of ethical guidelines,” Brian said. “Our review shows that officials in the bureau either didn’t care about what was going on in Casper or, just as damning, lacked a basic understanding of their own rules.”
The problems in the BLM, including an earlier revolving door conflict that POGO wrote Salazar about in October, are reminiscent of the misconduct that led the Obama administration last year to dismantle the Minerals Management Service (MMS), which was the BLM’s offshore counterpart. In BLM’s case, the IG found that James Murkin, a manager in the Casper office, failed to disclose regular meetings with industry officials, received two dinners from the owner of a company he regulated, and received $916.55 worth of patio materials from the company without having to prepay as was the usual business practice. While Murkin was receiving these benefits, he was considering whether to approve a land deal that would benefit the company.
The name of the industry official is redacted in the IG reports, but sources familiar with the investigation confirmed to POGO that it was Neil McMurry, co-founder of the McMurry oil company and McMurry Ready-Mix, and a prominent figure in Wyoming politics.
Though these issues were raised in the IG report, POGO found no record of any disciplinary actions.
BLM should adopt the stricter ethics standards for the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement, which took over some of MMS’s duties, Brian said. Those ethical reforms followed more than a decade of POGO investigations into misconduct at MMS.
In her letter to Secretary Salazar, Brian called on the Interior Department to ask the Inspector General to determine whether the Bureau’s Casper employees have inappropriate relationships with regulated industries, determine whether employees in the Casper office have been retaliated against for raising concerns, and to take action against employees who have violated ethical guidelines, among other recommendations.
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