- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar said Wednesday he will be announcing a review of widespread corruption in the department, offering reporters a brief preview of a wide-reaching probe that revealed scandals relating to “sex, drugs and inappropriate gifts,” among both political and career employees in the department.

Mr. Salazar said he will travel to the Minerals Management Service office in Lakewood, Colo. to announce the review and what steps are being taken to prevent any further problems. He said the office is one of the “worst examples of corruption, abuse, and of government putting special interests before the public interest.”

He said the inspector general conducted three investigations, and that some were dealing with “very high-level employees.” Two of the investigations revealed that transactions involving “gifts and sex and drugs” were actually happening “in the very government buildings where MMS has its responsibilities.”

He also said there will be additional announcements with more information on Thursday.

Mr. Salazar said he and President Obama want to send a signal that corruption won’t be tolerated.

“The American people should be proud of their government, all of their government,” he said.

Mr. Salazar, recently confirmed to the position after serving as a U.S. senator from Colorado, said he aims to institute reform 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.”

He said under the Bush administration the Department of Interior was “tarnished” by ethics scandals that led to prison terms and has made the American people associate the department with disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff.

“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, speaking to White House reporters before the press secretary’s daily briefing.

Mr. Salazar said the MMS office collects oil and gas royalties from development on public lands, and brought in $23 billion last year.

But he said employees there “engaged in blatant and criminal conflicts of interest and self-dealing,” and “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.”