Washington, DC — The criminal conviction of a top agency manager may be just the beginning of revolving door troubles at the Interior Department’s Minerals Management Service, according to documents released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). Workers at the agency are being told to expect more scandals to come.
On July 30, 2008, former special assistant to the Associate Director of Minerals Revenue Management, Mineral Management Service (MMS), Jimmy Mayberry, pled guilty before the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia to a felony violation of the conflict of interest law governing post-employment work. Mayberry faces a maximum sentence of five years in prison, and a fine of $250,000.
On August 5, 2008, MMS Director Randall Luthi sent out an all-employee e-mail which cited this recent conviction but added –
“Unfortunately, this may not be the end. I understand there are more possibilities of similar announcements as some IG and other investigations are wrapping up. We will deal with them as they come.”
MMS occupies a pivotal position for oil, natural gas and coal companies with interests in energy exploration or development on public lands or offshore in the federal waters of the Gulf of Mexico and the Arctic Outer Continental Shelf. Recent actions by MMS have opened up vast tracts of the Arctic Ocean to oil and gas operations over the objections of the agency’s own scientists. Similarly, MMS has ignored the advice of its own auditors in failing to collect tens of billions of dollars from oil and gas royalties that were lost to the federal treasury.
Several top MMS and Interior officials, most notably including former Secretary Gale Norton, have left their public positions and gone directly to work for oil companies.
“During the Bush administration, the priorities and the personnel of oil companies and the federal regulators have been indistinguishable and interchangeable,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch. “Especially during the Bush second term, the revolving door at the top echelons of MMS has spun like a windmill.”
Former federal employees who violate post-employment laws are not subject to administrative sanctions or civil action. Punishment can be obtained, as in the Mayberry case, through criminal prosecution.
“Post-employment prohibitions do not prevent officials from subverting the public interest to enhance their own future private employment prospects,” Ruch added. “This period at MMS has been a modern day Teapot Dome scandal but on an epic scale, as measured by the jaw-dropping give-away of public resources.”