Oh, baby: sex scandal rocks drilling agency

It looks like the Bush administration really is in bed with Big Oil: officials at the Minerals Management Service, the government agency that collects oil and gas royalties and doles out leases for offshore drilling, have been caught engaging in corrupt, drug-fueled sexual shenanigans with oil company representatives.

In three separate reports to Congress, the Interior Department’s inspector general blasted “a culture of substance abuse and promiscuity” that had taken root in the marketing wing of the MMS. One senior supervisor had sex with and bought drugs from his staff; another supplemented her income by selling sex toys at work. (She even bragged to co-workers that she earned more from dildos than from drilling.) Others attended alcohol, cocaine and marijuana-fueled parties, accepted lavish gifts, and had sexual relations with the same oil company representatives they were supposed to be collecting royalties from.

According to the inspector general, the agency “appeared to be devoid of both the ethical standards and internal controls sufficient to protect the integrity of this vital revenue-producing program,” reveling in a culture of depravity and corruption that cost taxpayers millions, and perhaps billions, of dollars. On at least 118 occasions, officials allowed oil companies to revise bids downwards once they’d been awarded competitive contracts, saving the companies around $4.4 million. On other occasions, officials shared confidential pricing information with oil companies, giving them an unfair advantage in future negotiations. “The fix is in throughout,” one agency lawyer told investigators. “This is tainted from the beginning, that is improper.”

Troublingly, the highest-ranking officials involved in the MMS sex-for-oil scandal appear likely to go unpunished: they retired before the investigation was concluded, putting them out of reach of administrative penalties, and Bush’s Justice Department has already said that it has no intention of taking on the criminal prosecutions suggested by the Interior Department’s inspector general.

And the oil companies themselves aren’t likely to have to face the music either: despite outcry from some Democrats and many greens, browbeaten congressional leaders look more likely than ever to push ahead with plans to open new areas for offshore drilling. In the aftermath of the Interior Department’s sex-for-oil scandal, it looks likely that Big Oil and the MMS will be allowed to continue their cozy relationship - only this time around, it’s going to be the American people who get screwed.