Salazar Attacks the Bush Administration
Updated 7:04 p.m.
By Michael D. Shear and Juliet Eilperin
Interior Secretary Ken Salazar vowed on Wednesday to clean house at his department, ridding it of the "ethical transgressions, the blatant conflicts of interests, wastes, and abuses that we have seen over the last eight years."
Speaking to reporters in Washington, Salazar said he will travel on Thursday to the Lakewood, Colo., office of the Minerals Management Service, which was implicated in a series of scandals during the last several years.
Last fall, Interior's inspector general issued a scathing report accusing several MMS officials of engaging in sex and using drugs with oil and gas industry representatives, in addition to accepting gifts from them. In November, more than half a dozen of the employees were disciplined for their transgressions, and some were fired.
"Some of the employees of that office violated the public trust by accepting gifts and employment contracts from the very oil and gas companies that they were supposed to be holding accountable," he said. "Some employees engaged in blatant and criminal conflicts of interest and self-dealing. It is one of the worst examples of corruption, abuse, and of government putting special interests before the public interest."
The secretary did not mince words, essentially blaming the Bush administration for failing to impose tough ethical standards in a department that oversees federal lands. He also cited the 2007 criminal conviction of Steven Griles, who served as deputy Interior secretary under Bush and pled guilty to lying to a Senate panel about his connected to convicted GOP lobbyist Jack Abramoff.
Salazar said his efforts to clean up the department are part of broader efforts by the Obama administration to abide by new standards in government. He said he will be announcing today a review of the Lakewood incidents.
"It will be clear that we will no longer tolerate those types of lapses at any level of government from political appointees or career employees," he said. "This is only the first step of our long-term effort to enact comprehensive, top-to-bottom reforms within the Department of Interior."
In an interview with The Washington Post Tuesday, Salazar said he had already circulated a memo about ethics to the department's 64,000 employees, and put them on notice that as Colorado's former attorney general he would not tolerate further transgressions.
"There's a new sheriff in town," he said. "We need to restore the integrity and respect of the department."
Salazar made his comments from the podium in the White House briefing room, having appeared as a surprise guest at the beginning of the regular briefing by press secretary Robert Gibbs.
Such appearances are infrequent. The briefings are broadcast live on television but are usually limited to the official spokesman who is schooled in handling the press. Even more unusual, Salazar sat for much of the briefing in the front row, with the reporters.
Posted at 5:55 PM ET on Jan 28, 2009
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