Speech: Remarks to Employees at MMS Office in Denver, CO

Last edited 09/29/2021

MMS Office in Lakewood, CO

Good morning, and thank you for joining me.

At the outset, I will tell you this: I believe that service to the public is a special and trusted calling for each of us.

To serve the American people is honorable and dignified.

I know this from my father, who served as a staff sergeant in World War II. I know this from my mother, who at 19 went to Washington DC to work in the War Department. I know this from the peace officers who served with me when I was Colorado's Attorney General. And I know this from the tens of thousands of public servants who work at the Department of the Interior.

Those who work in government should feel proud of their service, and the American people should be proud of their government.

But in recent years, the American people have lost trust in their government. Regrettably, they have lost trust in the Department of the Interior, where ethical lapses and criminal behavior have extended to the highest levels. The former Deputy Secretary of this Department went to prison. The public associates this Department with Jack Abramoff. And the public knows of what happened here in Lakewood.

In his first week in office, President Obama showed his commitment to reform, from top to bottom. And he immediately set high ethical standards for service in the federal government.

He has made clear that the type of ethical transgressions, blatant conflicts of interest, wastes and abuses that we have seen over the last eight years will no longer be tolerated.

President Obama's and my goal is to restore the public's trust, to enact meaningful reform, to ensure that taxpayers are getting a fair value from the resources they own, to uphold the law, and to ensure that all of us, career public servants and political appointees, do our jobs with the highest level of integrity.

Today, I want to outline the first steps to reform that I plan to take in this Department.

I am speaking with you because the ethical lapses in this office, and the individuals who engaged in blatant and criminal conflicts of interest and self dealing, set one of the worst examples of corruption and abuse in government.

So today, I am directing the following actions, which my chief of staff, Tom Strickland, will lead. Tom Strickland is a former United States Attorney for Colorado. He served as United States Attorney while I served as Colorado's Attorney General and top law enforcement officer.

1). First, I am redirecting an examination of potential criminal conduct by those who were directly involved in the scandals described in the three Inspector General reports. I have asked the Department of Justice and, if appropriate, the Colorado United States Attorney's office, to review whether the criminal determinations made earlier were correct. Given the seriousness of the findings of the OIG, I want to make sure that those who blatantly flaunted the law receive the appropriate sanction.

2). Second, I am directing Chief of Staff Tom Strickland to review the personnel actions that were taken against individuals involved to determine whether the sanctions were appropriate, or if additional sanctions are needed.

3.) I have directed Chief of Staff Tom Strickland to lead a review of the recommendations from the Inspector General, the Garn-Kerrey report, and the Government Accountability Office. We will assess the progress and effectiveness of the implementation of the recommendations. We want to ensure that the actions taken to date are comprehensive. If they are not, we will take additional steps.

4.) Fourth, I have ordered published today a new, clear, strict Code of Conduct that applies to all employees within MMS. This was designed specifically to address some of the problems identified by the Inspector General. To the extent there was any confusion about applicable government ethics standards or guidance, the Code of Conduct clarifies the ethics standards to which all employees are bound. There will be no exceptions.

5). Fifth, as I announced in my memo to all employees earlier this week, we will undertake a thorough review of the Department's ethics policies and guidelines. This review will build on President Obama's order to the Office of Government Ethics to develop rules and regulations consistent with the ethics pledge for all Executive Branch employees, where applicable. I have met with and directed the Designated Agency Ethics Official to review our Departmental specific regulations and recommend areas where we can improve on our own ethical policies and guidance.

The Department of the Interior will raise the bar for ethics, and we will set the standard for reform.

6.) Finally, the problems that occurred here in Lakewood were the product of a few individuals and a set of special interests who capitalized on an outdated and flawed royalty collection system. So in addition to reviewing the cases of those individuals, we will examine a fundamental restructuring of MMS's royalty program so that taxpayers get their fair share from the development of natural resources, like oil and natural gas, on our public lands. Last year, this office alone collected $23 billion on behalf of the American taxpayer. All ideas for reform will be on the table.

We need a system that delivers a fair value to the taxpayer, is straightforward and transparent, and is less vulnerable to the type of abuses we have seen.

Our agenda for reform will reach every part of this department. But it will also send a loud and clear signal to the special interests outside of this department who have become accustomed to the “anything goes” attitude in Washington over the last eight years.

The “anything goes” will end. And this Department, and the Minerals Management Service, will lead the way in ending it.

We will make sure you have the tools you need to hold special interests accountable, to protect taxpayers from getting fleeced, and to ensure that those who develop our natural resources follow the law of the land.

The American people will know the Minerals Management Service as a defender of the taxpayer. You are the champions of the public interest. You are the ones who will make special interests play by the rules. And you are the ones who will help transform this Department from the “department of anything goes” to “America's Department.”

Americans should be proud of the work of this Department. Those who work for this Department should be proud of their service. Together, we can, and we will, take this Department in a new direction.

Thank you.

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