Democratic News

New York Times readers woke to another front page story today about royalties for oil and gas pumped from public lands. Today’s reporting focuses on four government auditors who monitor leases on Federal property who allege that the Interior Department suppressed their efforts to collect millions of dollars from companies they said were cheating the government.
Sen. Bingaman, top Democrat on the Energy Committee, takes seriously any charge that taxpayers are not getting paid for the oil and gas they own.  “It is absolutely essential that we have confidence in the integrity of the royalty system for public and Tribal lands,” he said.  “Royalty laws are complicated, so we need to get the facts.  That’s why in January I asked the Government Accountability Office to review the adequacy of the Interior Department’s audit capabilities.  They are making progress on this, and my colleagues and I look forward to their report.”
Rep. Nick Rahall, ranking Democrat on the House Resources Committee, said, "If these allegations are true, then oil companies are drilling for profits in the Federal Treasury, and the Interior Department is turning a blind eye.  Oil companies owe the American people, and Interior has a duty to collect."
Today, in response to this story, Bingaman joined Rahall in this request to the Interior Department’s Inspector General:
September 21, 2006
The Honorable Earl E. Devaney
Inspector General
U.S. Department of the Interior (Mail Stop 5341)
1849 C Street NW
Washington, D.C. 20240
Dear Mr. Devaney:
            We read with concern the article in today’s edition of the New York Times, “Suits Say U.S. Impeded Audits for Oil Leases” by Edmund L. Andrews, reporting that four government auditors who have monitored leases for oil and gas on federal property say the Interior Department suppressed their efforts to recover millions of dollars from companies that they said were cheating the government.  These claims, while as yet unproven, are serious and cannot be brushed aside.  Your recent Congressional testimony that “short of crime, anything goes” at the top levels of the Interior Department, underscores the need for greater oversight of the royalty program.
            As Ranking Members of the House Committee on Resources and the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, respectively, we are writing to respectfully ask that you provide us with a report on any actions, including past and ongoing investigations, undertaken by the Office of the Inspector General as pertains to allegations of misconduct in the management of the oil and gas royalty program.  Furthermore, we hope that you will provide to us as soon as possible your work in response to the January 24, 2006 request relating to auditing under the Royalty Management Program, which we understand you are undertaking in coordination with the Government Accountability Office.
            We thank you for your cooperation and look forward to being apprised of your progress on this critical review.
            With warm regards, we are
NICK J. RAHALL, II                                               JEFF BINGAMAN
Ranking Democratic Member                                  Ranking Democratic Member
House Committee on Resources                              Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources