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We Can’t Afford to Ignore the Costs of Gushing Crude

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The following op-ed appeared in the June 30, 2010 edition of The Washington Examiner.

Here we go again folks; another disaster, another investigation, and yet another finding of ethical and moral lapses by those who should have been watching out for citizens and taxpayers.

Reports are surfacing this week about a “culture of substance abuse and promiscuity” in the agency charged with collecting more than $8 billion in royalties annually from oil and gas companies and inspecting producing wells for safety.

As events leading up to our nation’s worst environmental disaster to date were falling into place, reports dating back to 2008 indicate that some key employees of the former Minerals Management Service (MMS), now named the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation, and Enforcement (BOE), were living it up, drinking, getting high, sleeping around, and surfing and sharing pornography on government computers.

The Office of the Inspector General at the U.S. Department of Interior (DOI) found that those MMS employees were flagrantly violating government ethics regulations and essentially didn’t believe those regulations applied to them.

Worse still, the regulations they were hired to enforce were also being ignored. MMS officials failed to hold BP responsible for certifying that their blowout preventers could stop the devastating flow of crude we see in the Gulf today.

But key MMS employees had an uncontrolled flow of crude of their own – crude behavior that is.

A May 2010 memo from Acting Inspector General Mary L. Kendall to Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar showed that employees at the New Orleans and Lake Charles, Louisiana MMS office were involved with fraternization and gift exchanges with oil industry reps; one oil rig inspector used illegal drugs the night before coming to work; others falsified inspection forms; another conducted 51 inspections of equipment belonging to a company from which he was seeking employment.

The IG also found “numerous instances of pornography and other inappropriate material in the e-mail accounts of 13 employees, and 314 instances where seven remaining employees received and forwarded pornographic images and links to pornographic videos from their government e-mail accounts.

That’s just the folks in Louisiana. But they were outdone by the MMS employees in Lakewood, Colorado.

DOI Inspector General Earl E. Devaney notes that along with a supervisor who “engaged in illegal drug use and had sexual relations with subordinates,” other MMS staff admitted to illegal drug use, excessive alcohol use, and illicit sexual encounters with representatives of the oil and gas industry.

In the report, both of the “MMS Chicks” justified their liaisons with the oil industry by saying they didn’t consider a one-night stand to be a personal relationship (which would disqualify them from overseeing business with that company).

Devaney said it best in his report that, “Sexual relationships with prohibited sources cannot, by definition, be arms-length.”

Does any of this sound familiar? They should. Reports released in April detailed Security and Exchange Commission employees surfing the web for pornography in 2008 while our financial system collapsed around them.

In the aftermath of both disasters, liberal critics blamed free market Republicans, saying that the Reagan philosophy of deregulation was to blame for both. This is just outright false.

First off, next to nuclear power, the oil and gas industry is the most highly regulated in our nation – and the banks aren’t too far behind. There were plenty of laws on the books that would have mitigated both financial and ecological disasters, but those given the responsibility to look after the public’s interest were instead violating clear ethics rules in pursuit of their own private pleasures.

President Reagan reduced government regulations that were choking the life out of business in our nation. He certainly didn’t lift all regulations so that federal workers could be paid to surf pornography and take gifts from those they were regulating.

Given these recent examples of moral license leading to costly burdens on the American taxpayer, fiscal conservatives should rethink their ideas about giving up on the social issues that we at Concerned Women for America, and our half a million members, care about.

Simply put, it costs all of us too much to ignore these issues.