Sept 12, 2008
Things That Make You Go MMS: A Mile High Scandal
The Bush administration's Interior Department has bobbed-and-weaved from scandal to scandal over the years -- including a troubling tango with super-sleazy super-lobbyist Jack Abramoff.
It seemed like the rotten-to-the-core department's parting shot was to be its proposed gutting of the Endangered Species Act. But just in time for the final act in the Congressional drilling drama, the administration has really managed to outdo itself with a real barnburner.
This latest scandal focuses on the Minerals Management Service (MMS), the agency within Interior that manages oil leasing and royalties. Even though it's unfolding in the thin air of the Mile High City, this one has all the classic hallmarks of a DC scandal: sex, drugs, and oil. Tales of illicit sex and other salacious details were splashed across the pages of newspapers in D.C. and around the country after Interior's Inspector General dropped a bombshell report detailing the "fraternity" atmosphere within the office of the MMS that accepts (and then re-sells) oil and gas as "payment in-kind" for the royalties Big Oil owes to the federal government.
The Denver MMS office was so rife with corruption -- at least one-third of the office's employees improperly accepted tens of thousands of dollars in gifts -- that this mega-scandal is actually a collection of dozens of individual misdeeds that each could be enough for a stand-alone scandal. One top official, Gregory Smith, had affairs with not one, but two of his subordinates. He also purchased cocaine from one of these women (and her boyfriend), sometime receiving it at the office. On one such occasion, he even promised her a $250 bonus if she could secure it for him.
Two other employees of the office were infamously known as the "MMS chicks." They once got so drunk at a PGA tournament (tickets courtesy of Big Oil) they had to be put up at a hotel courtesy of Shell. One of them, however, was a harder partier than the other and had sexual relationships with at least two oil company employees. She also "had a hit [of pot] every once in a while," ran a sex toy business on the side, and told investigators that she didn't think her dalliances with oil company employees were inappropriate because, in her opinion, one-night stands are not "personal relationships."
Another official wrote the description for a project, quit his job, and then colluded with his former colleagues in order to receive a lucrative consulting contract to essentially do his old job.
One of the primary responsibilities of the office was not only managing, but also then remarketing the oil and gas that the agency accepted as payment. One of the less salacious, but still very troubling, allegations concerns the practice of allowing oil companies to lower their winning bids after the sales were completed. The report documents 118 such instances -- wrongdoing that added up to some $4.4 million in lost revenue for taxpayers.
Despite all of this, Big Oil's best friends in Congress are now demanding a dramatic expansion in offshore drilling -- all of which would be managed by the scandal-plagued MMS.
This whole thing really gives "drill baby, drill" a whole new meaning....