Menendez And Nelson Introduce Legislation To Help Break Oil Company Influence Over Federal Government

Menendez And Nelson Introduce Legislation To Help Break Oil Company Influence Over Federal Government

They ask Reid to consider it as part of energy legislation

Washington - U.S. Senators Robert Menendez (D-NJ) and Bill Nelson (D-FL) today introduced legislation aimed at breaking the grip oil companies have on the federal government and asked Majority Leader Harry Reid to bring it up for consideration as part of any energy legislation that comes before the Senate (http://menendez.senate.gov/pdf/092308MMS-ReidLetter.pdf). The Integrity in Offshore Energy Resources Act would impose dramatically tougher ethics rules for the Minerals Management Service - the federal agency at the center of a major corruption scandal stemming from its employees' relationships with oil company representatives.

"If American taxpayers are furious that they are paying sky high gas prices while their government is literally and figuratively in bed with the oil companies, they have every right to be," said Senator Menendez. "Oil companies need to be on notice: their grip on our government has to end now."

"The influence big oil has over this administration needs to be stopped," said Nelson. "There is no room for hanky-panky when it comes to taxpayer money and the responsibility that comes with drilling off our coastlines."

Three reports released this month by Interior Department investigators revealed widespread corruption and unethical dealings in the agency, including federal employees accepting gifts from oil companies, steering lucrative government contracts toward retiring co-workers and engaging in drug use and sexual activity with representatives of oil companies and with fellow co-workers.

MMS oversees oil company use of federally-leased lands and runs the Royalty-in-Kind program, by which oil companies compensate the federal government for use of public lands with oil and gas, which is then sold on the market. The Government Accountability Office has reported that it is unclear whether the federal government is even receiving adequate royalties from the oil companies in the first place.

Summary of Menendez-Nelson legislation:

Employee Ethical Standards

  • Would ban the acceptance of all gifts from the industry. Any gifts that are received will be presumed to be at least an illegal gratuity unless proven otherwise. An illegal gratuity is a felony punishable by 2 years in prison.
  • Would increase number of MMS employees required to file public financial disclosure forms and forms revealing past employment. Those who earn incomes at the base level of a GS-13 (currently $82,961) employee or higher will now have to reveal this information (currently, employees compensated at 120% of GS15 level, $138,380 or more, must disclose).
  • Would require MMS employees to divest all industry investments before working at MMS (Current law requires employees to recuse themselves from working on a matter specifically having to do with a particular company if they own $15,000 or more in that company's stock).
  • Would hold MMS employees under the same standards as federal procurement officials (one year "revolving door" ban extends to all private sector jobs for companies they worked on major deals with while a federal employee and not just "representational activities", such as lobbying).

MMS Review of Practices

  • The Royalty-In-Kind Program would be suspended until the following conditions are met:
    • MMS conducts a comprehensive review to determine if it has been accurately collecting royalties and reports its findings to Congress.
    • MMS conducts a thorough review to ensure that metering equipment properly measures what royalties are owed to the federal government and reports these findings to Congress.
    • MMS conducts a robust training program ending with a signed certification that MMS employees understand the ethics laws and regulations.
    • MMS creates an ombudsman position that monitors MMS's progress in carrying out its reforms. The ombudsman is hired by and reports exclusively to the DOI IG.
  • Would require MMS to conduct extensive audits of Royalty-In-Kind program to ensure government is receiving fair compensation for use of public lands.

# # #