The Interior Department’s program to collect billions of dollars annually from oil and gas companies that drill on federal lands is troubled by mismanagement, ethical lapses and fears of retaliation against whistle-blowers, the department’s chief independent investigator has concluded.
The report, a result of a yearlong investigation, grew out of complaints by four auditors at the agency, who said that senior administration officials had blocked them from recovering money from oil companies that underpaid the government.
The report stopped short of accusing top agency officials of wrongdoing, concluding that the whistle-blowers were sometimes unaware of other efforts under way to recover the missing money and that they sometimes simply disagreed with top management.
But it offered a sharp description of failures at the Minerals Management Service, the agency within the Interior Department responsible for collecting about $10 billion a year in royalties on oil and gas. Many of the issues, including the complaints by whistle-blowers, were initially reported last year by The New York Times.
Prepared by the Interior Department’s inspector general, Earl E. Devaney, the report said that investigators found a “profound failure” in the agency’s technology for monitoring oil and gas payments.
It suggested that the agency was too cozy with oil companies and that internal critics had good reason to fear punishment.
“It demonstrates a Band-Aid approach to holding together one of the federal government’s largest revenue-producing operations,” Mr. Devaney concluded.
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