Interior tries to set things right after scandal

Washington D.C., USA Kempthorne also told a House panel that he would appoint an attorney-adviser to watch over ethics in the Denver office at the center of the scandal. The office collects billions of dollars from oil companies drilling on federal lands.

Kempthorne said he was considering how to deal with the workers involved who are still employed with the agency.

"I can assure the committee that this process will be completed as swiftly as possible, and we will examine the full spectrum of disciplinary actions, including termination," said Kempthorne, who said he was outraged by employees' abuse of the public's trust.

Last week, in three separate reports, the Interior Department Inspector General Earl E. Devaney alleged that 13 employees in Washington and Denver were rigging bids, accepting expensive gifts, and partying with oil company employees from 2002 to 2006. A third of the 55 employees in the Denver office accepted gifts from oil and gas companies, the reports said.

Devaney told members of the House Natural Resources Committee Thursday that the conduct of the Minerals Management Service employees was "egregious" and said he was at a loss to explain the behavior of oil and gas company representatives.

"Simply stated, the MMS employees named in these latest reports had a callous disregard for the rules by which the rest of us are required to play," Devaney said.

Devaney, under questioning, said he was unable to show that any of the personal relationships brought benefits to the oil companies.


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