Press Briefing - Cleaning House
|←Interior Memo - Ethical Responsibilities||Interior Memo - Ethical Responsibilities by
Ken Salazar's writings
|Remarks to Employees at MMS Office in Denver, CO (Jan 2009)→|
|Memorandum issued on 26 January 2009.|
President Obama has immediately set high ethical standards for all of government as part of his reform agenda. As part of that commitment and implementing the reform agenda, I intend to do my part in the Department of Interior to make sure that scandals that have occurred in the past are properly dealt with, and that the problems that we uncover are fixed so that they don't occur again.
President Obama immediately made clear that the type of ethical transgressions, the blatant conflicts of interest, waste and abuses that we have seen over the last eight years will no longer be tolerated. Nowhere is President Obama's commitment to reform and to cleaning up the waste, fraud and abuse of the past more important than at the Department of Interior, which I now lead on his behalf.
Over the last eight years, the Department of Interior has been tarnished by ethical lapses, of criminal behavior that has extended to the very highest levels of government. The former deputy secretary of the department under the Bush administration, Steven Griles, was sent to prison. It is a department that the American people associate with Jack Abramoff. And it is a department that was tarnished by a scandal involving sex, drugs and inappropriate gifts from the oil and gas companies that the employees were in charge of overseeing.
The Lakewood, Colorado, office of the Minerals Management Service is taxed with making sure that taxpayers, the American taxpayers, collect their fair share from oil and gas development on their public lands. Last year that office collected $23 billion. That's $23 billion on behalf of the American people. Yet during the last administration, 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.
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.
Tomorrow I will be traveling to the Lakewood MMS office to meet with the employees. I there will be announcing our own review of what happened, what has been done to address it, and what additional steps need to be taken.
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. This is only the first step of our long-term effort to enact comprehensive top-to-bottom reforms within the Department of Interior. The American people should be proud of their government, all of their government. Those who work for the government should be proud of their service to the American people. We will work to reform the Department of the Interior, to restore the public's trust and confidence in the highest levels of ethics and accountability that the American people deserve.
And with that, I'd be happy to take a few questions from the audience.
Question: Secretary, what about -- can you clarify where the administration is right now on whether you're going to overturn the Bush policy on exploring offshore oil and gas drilling, et cetera?
- With respect to the Outer Continental Shelf, as President Obama made very clear during the campaign, we will look at the OCS in connection with a comprehensive energy program for the nation. One of the signature issues that President Obama will work on very hard, has worked on very hard, and will continue to work on very hard is the development of a comprehensive energy strategy. We need to address the economic opportunity here at home, the environmental insecurity that comes from global warming, and also the national security issues.
- And so, as we move forward with the development of our oil and gas resources, both onshore and offshore, it has to be a part of a set of a comprehensive energy program.
Question: So do you believe there should be more?
Question: Does that mean it's on hold? It means there will be no drilling under this order until you've done this review; is that what that means?
- No, not at all. The current status of the OCS --
Question: I mean, no expansion -- obviously there is some now -- but expansion -- are you saying that expansion is on hold pending this comprehensive energy policy?
- The status of the OCS right now is that the five-year plan of the Department of Interior that governs the OCS has been opened up, okay? And so it is now a plan that is being formulated. And as that plan gets formulated it is going to have to fit in with a comprehensive energy plan that President Obama wants for the nation, which is a signature issue and one in which the Department of Interior will be intimately involved in supporting the President's goals to get America to a point of energy independence for all the reasons that I articulated earlier.
Question: Mr. Secretary, during the transition, the co-chair of the transition for President Obama, John Podesta, said that the President would be overturning some of the executive orders and presidential orders President Bush had put into place about oil and gas exploration on federal lands. We have not seen any executive orders or presidential orders overturning them, and I'm wondering if they're pending, and if you think it's wise to limit where the United States is able to explore for energy during this time of energy crisis, where we're getting all our oil from abroad.
- The answer to that question is that there are a number of different regulations and actions that were taken by the Bush administration, some of them in the midnight hour as their term expired here, and we have all of those on the table and we're taking a look at them. There are some which are bad and which need a new direction. There are probably some which will be kept in place. And so we are now in the process, having now been in the Department of Interior's position, really, for only about a week, at taking a look at all of these regulations.
- On the more fundamental issue which I think you are addressing, which is the approach to oil and gas development -- it has to be done in the context of a comprehensive energy plan. And it also has to be done with the right kind of balance. There are places where it is appropriate to explore and to develop oil and gas resources, and there are places that are not appropriate. And so that's part of what we'll move forward with in the agenda at the Department of Interior.
Question: Of the incidents that you cited in your opening statement, were most of those political appointees? Were some career? And in the week in which you've been in office, have any ongoing ethics violations been brought to your attention?
- The report the Inspector General referred to -- there are actually three investigations that were conducted by the Inspector General -- some of them had to do with very high-level employees within the Department of Interior and engaging in self-dealing and other kinds of inappropriate relations with outside interests. Some of the -- two of the investigations dealt with gifts and sex and drugs actually taking place in transactions in the very government buildings where MMS has its responsibilities. So we're taking a look at that, and tomorrow we'll have some additional announcements on where we want to take all those issues.
Question: But are they political appointees, or are they career people who are still working for you?
- They're both. They're both.
|This work is in the public domain in the United States because it is a work of the United States federal government (see 17 U.S.C. 105).|