Wednesday, September 10, 2008
Sex, drugs, rock 'n' roll and us
Word from the U.S. capital Wednesday that Interior Department employees regulating the energy industry received gifts, drugs and even sexual favors from companies doing business with the government confirms the worst about the current administration. Just as President Bush and his team have at times seemed oblivious to constitutional traditions restricting their conduct, at least 19 federal employees took illegal gratuities from the companies they were regulating in direct violation of federal law. The improper conduct was revealed in a report issued Wednesday by the inspector general of the Interior Department, who conducted a two-year, $5.3 million investigation following a whistleblower complaint in 2006. Two Interior Department employees "received combined gifts and gratuities on at least 135 occasions from four major oil and gas companies with whom they were doing business -- a textbook example of improperly receiving gifts from prohibited sources," Inspector General Earl Devaney told Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne in a letter accompanying the report, according to the Cable News Network. Randall Luthi, head of the department's Minerals Management Service, said the public had not suffered financial losses as a result of the employees' behavior. As many as seven of the employees still work for the department, CNN said. The Mineral Management Service is responsible for selling oil and gas collected as rent from companies drilling on federal laws. Leading Democrats in Congress accused the Bush administration of being too close to the oil industry, and of cheating the American people out of royalties owed by companies, CNN said. "The Bush administration put an 'America for Sale' sign on the White House lawn from day one and has been courting Big Oil ever since," Rep. Louise Slaughter, D-New York and chairwoman of the House Rules Committee, said in a written statement, according to CNN. "Democrats have been saying it for some time, but this proves it. This administration is literally in bed with Big Oil. Little did we know they were such a cheap date." House Speaker Nancy Pelosi released a similar statement. "This report documents the 'pervasive culture of exclusivity' that has cheated the American taxpayer out of the billions of dollars owed them by the oil companies," she said. Two oil companies mentioned in the report, Shell and Chevron, declined to comment, saying they still needed to review it, CNN said.