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Interior Department Documents and Publications

Secretary Salazar Launches Ethics Reform Initiative in Meeting with Minerals Management Service Employees

Date: Jan. 29, 2009 Contact: Frank Quimby 202-208-6416

DENVER, CO - Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar today launched an ethics reform initiative that will reexamine the potential criminal conduct of a group of Minerals Management Service employees, look at restructuring the agency's oil and gas royalty program, and thoroughly review the Department's ethics regulations and policies.

 Leading the initiative for the Secretary will be Tom Strickland, the Secretary's chief of staff who was the United States Attorney for Colorado when Salazar served as the state's Attorney General and top law enforcement officer.

"President Obama's and my goal is to restore the public's trust, to enact meaningful reform, to ensure that taxpayers are getting a fair value from the resources they own, to uphold the law, and to ensure that all of us -- career public servants and political appointees -- do our jobs with the highest level of integrity," Salazar told MMS employees at the Federal Center here.

"The President has made it clear that the type of ethical transgressions, blatant conflicts of interest, wastes and abuses that we have seen over the past eight years will no longer be tolerated," the Secretary said. "The Department of the Interior will raise the bar for ethics, and we will set the standard for reform."

Salazar said the American people lost trust in the Department because of ethical lapses and criminal behavior that extended to the highest levels.
Referring to the scandal uncovered at the MMS Royalty-in-Kind office in Lakewood, the Secretary called it "the product of a few individuals and a set of special interests who capitalized on an outdated and flawed royalty collection system."

"So in addition to reviewing the cases of those individuals, we will examine a fundamental restructuring of the MMS royalty program so that taxpayers get their fair share from the development of natural resources, like oil and natural gas, on our public lands," said Salazar, who noted that the royalty office collected $23 billion last year on behalf of the American taxpayer.

Emphasizing that "all ideas for reform will be on the table," Salazar has directed the following first steps:

- An examination of potential criminal conduct by those who were directly involved in the scandals described in the Interior Inspector General reports. "I have asked the Department of Justice and, if appropriate, the Colorado United States Attorney's office, to review whether the criminal determinations made earlier were correct." Salazar said. "Given the seriousness of the findings of the OIG, I want to make sure that those who blatantly flaunted the law receive the appropriate sanction."

- Review the personnel actions that were taken against individuals involved to determine whether the sanctions were appropriate, or if additional sanctions are needed.

- Review the recommendations from the Inspector General, the Garn-Kerrey report, and the Government Accountability Office. "We will assess the progress and effectiveness of the implementation of the recommendations," Salazar said.
"We want to ensure that the actions taken to date are comprehensive. If they are not, we will take additional steps."

- Ordered published today a new, clear, strict Code of Conduct that applies to all employees in MMS. "This was designed specifically to address some of the problems identified by the Inspector General," Salazar noted. "To the extent there was any confusion about applicable government ethics standards or guidance, the Code of Conduct clarifies the ethics standards to which all employees are bound. There will be no exceptions."

- Undertake a thorough review of the Department's ethics regulations, policies and guidance and recommend areas where they can be strengthened. "This review will build on President Obama's order to the Office of Government Ethics to develop rules and regulations consistent with the ethics pledge for all Executive Branch employees, where applicable," Salazar said.

The Secretary said a fundamental restructuring of the MMS royalty program may be needed so that taxpayers get their fair share from the development of natural resources. "We need a system that delivers a fair value to the taxpayer, is straightforward and transparent, and is less vulnerable to the type of abuses we have seen," Salazar emphasized. "Our agenda for reform will reach every part of this department. But it will also send a loud and clear signal to the special interests outside of this department who have become accustomed to the 'anything goes' attitude in Washington over the last eight years. The 'anything goes' era is over. And this Department and the Minerals Management Service will lead the way in ending it."

Declaring there is no higher calling than public service, Salazar said "those who work for this Department should be proud of their service. Americans should be proud of the work of this department."

Alaska natural gas pipeline photo courtesy Federal State Joint Pipeline Office