A former top auditor at the Interior Department accused senior officials on Wednesday of prohibiting him and other investigators from recovering hundreds of millions of dollars in underpayments from oil and gas companies that drill on federal land and in federal waters.
“There’s hundreds of millions of dollars, billions of dollars out there, and I don’t think we should be scared of the oil companies,” said Bobby L. Maxwell, a former senior auditor who, as a private citizen, sued the Kerr-McGee Corporation, claiming it intentionally cheated the government of royalties for oil and gas it produced in the Gulf of Mexico.
In February, a federal jury in Denver agreed with Mr. Maxwell and ruled that Kerr-McGee had underpaid the government by $7.5 million.
“There were statements made: ‘Don’t bother the oil companies,’ ” Mr. Maxwell told the House Natural Resources Committee, which is investigating allegations of mismanagement in the royalty program run by the Minerals Management Service of the Interior Department.
“The M.M.S. is the proverbial ostrich that has its head in the sand, that sees nothing, knows nothing, but says that no royalties are due,” Mr. Maxwell continued.
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