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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.

By Web Politics Editor  |  January 28, 2009; 5:55 PM ET
Categories:  43 , Cabinet  
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Comments

I wish Secretary Salazar the very best, he will need it. Even in America's "most beloved agency" (NPS) you have had suprising problems; from a largely disgruntled workforce to thier odd "dual career assistance program".Translation if you are not married to or related to a ranger your chances of getting a job seem greatly diminished. In the real world it is called nepotism, oh well.

Secretary Salazar would do well to remind the bad apples in DOI that there are more than 6 million Americans right now who would be grateful to have a stable job that promises lifetime employment and 1950's era benefits and corporate paternalism.

Posted by: derrick277 | January 30, 2009 12:28 AM | Report abuse

It's not being cynical, just realistic, to note that the prospects for substantial ethical reform don't begin to match the loftiness of the rhetoric or the decibel-level of the expressions of outrage. That said, Salazar is right, and I just hope that he in his domain and Obama as prez have the testosterone to make justice swift, terrible, and real.

The Bush/Abramoff approach to governing was to sell the levers of power in the bureaucracies to those who were willing to cave in to businesses they were charged with regulating, or in the case of those (like FEMA) that have no such direct and well-traveled avenues of corruption, to appoint incompetents or saboteurs who prevented those agencies from functioning well ("You're doing a heckuva job, Brownie!").

Now, I'm not so naif to believe that the Democrats' behavior will be utterly above reproach. Get real. And let justice be swift and terrible for any Obama administration transgressors. But I think that Obama et al understand (at least better than Bush and Cheney) that their responsibility is first to the people whom these agencies are intended to serve; that means us, not corporate America. Now THERE'S a concept for you!

Posted by: post_reader_in_wv | January 29, 2009 8:32 PM | Report abuse

As much as I wish Salazar good luck in running Interior, he may not have the guts and determination to clean up the mess. Politicians, particularly Senators, are by nature, gregarious and "Hail Fellow Well Met" types. They want to be loved and admired by their constituencies. I suspect that Salazar may fall into this category. Now he must lower the boom very hard on this agency. Somehow I suspect that he may not have the "right stuff" to do this. If he does what needs to be done, he is going to have to antagonize much of his Interior Employee constituency. I have my doubts whether he will be able to clean up Interior.

Posted by: RedRat | January 29, 2009 2:23 PM | Report abuse

Bush packed all US Government agencies with crooks and liars, not just DOI. Purge and jail all Bushies -- they're all traitors. Go Salazar! Go Obama!

Posted by: owens1 | January 29, 2009 11:29 AM | Report abuse

Based on the severity of the offenses, I find it amazing that only "some were fired." And I don't expect things to change under the new administration, especially after the new president is already waiving his "tough new standards" to hire who he wants. Politicians almost always put politics above priniples, regardless of party.

Posted by: bigtom6156 | January 29, 2009 10:52 AM | Report abuse

ah the joy of the pulpit.Has anyone been looking at the news democrats aren't immune to lapses Barney Frank, Rangel, Dobbs,lobbyist as cabinent members,Rubin(120million),ah it must be nice to have the press in the bag and be anointed

Posted by: mfidler | January 29, 2009 9:13 AM | Report abuse

"engaging in sex and using drugs with oil and gas industry representatives, in addition to accepting gifts from them."

And what was it about the Clinton administration didn't Republicans like? I'm sure glad "real" Americans and "true" Christians voted overwhelmingly for Bush and the Republican Party.

Posted by: thebobbob | January 28, 2009 7:05 PM | Report abuse

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