Easily the best question in the hearing was asked by Rep. George Miller (D-CA), who asked how the corruption problems in the RIK program could possibly change if industry representatives who had given inappropriate gifts to federal employees in the past are still working directly with MMS employees. This line of questioning led DOI IG Earl Devaney to suggest that the answer might be to consider suspension or debarment for the companies found to be acting inappropriately, including those that refused to cooperate with the IG investigators. House Government Oversight Chairman Henry Waxman's (D-CA) hearing next week also seeks to explore the question of how to fix the problems at MMS by holding industry accountable for their misconduct, in addition to the misconduct of RIK program employees. It is also worth noting that several members of the Committee were practically begging Interior to request additional tools they might need to increase accountability and ethical behavior in oil and gas royalty collection.
Rep. Joe Baca (D-CA) also deserves accolades for asking whether this same kind of behavior could be found in other MMS offices. This line of questioning pushed IG Devaney to admit that the RIK program is an aberration because of the nature of the program itself requiring MMS employees to be "in daily, if not hourly" contact with "prohibitive sources" (i.e. industry). Earlier in the hearing, Devaney also admitted that during his investigation he could not find whether the program had lost money for taxpayers because the RIK contracts were "unauditable by our forensic accountants."
Also honing onto accountability, Rep. Steve Scalise (R-LA) provided important scrutiny of DOJ's decision to decline to prosecute former RIK Director Greg Smith (something POGO simply can NOT believe either).
As illuminating and exciting as this hearing was, however, it still has not given the taxpayers a justification for why the RIK program should continue to exist.
-- Mandy Smithberger