Department of Interior

Verizon: Get Exposed for Spying, Win $1 Billion!

Congratulations to Verizon!

Just a few months after being exposed for providing all its American customer records to the government, it just won part of a $10 billion contract to provide cloud storage for the Department of Interior that may be worth as much as $1 billion.

The U.S. Department of the Interior has selected Verizon to participate in a $10 billion, 10-year contract to provide cloud and hosting services. This is potentially one of Verizon’s largest federal cloud contracts to date.

Verizon is one of 10 companies that will compete to offer cloud-based storage, secure file transfer, virtual machine, and database, Web, and development and test environment hosting services. The company is also one of four selected to offer SAP application hosting services.

Each of the 10 agreements awarded under the Foundation Cloud Hosting Services contract has a potential maximum value of $1 billion.

Don’t worry. I’m sure the spying had nothing to do with Verizon winning this huge contract.

But I’m sure it will make Verizon much less interested in pushing the government to roll back the spying.

Are DOJ and DOI Making A Competent Legal Effort On Gulf Moratorium?

Exactly one week ago, in a post entitled Judicial Ethics in the Gulf: Judge Feldman’s Conflicts and DOJ Malpractice, I related the patently obvious, and disqualifying, statutory ethical conflicts on the part of the Federal judge in the Eastern District of Louisiana, Martin Feldman, who made the curious and shocking decision to stay enforcement of the Obama Administration’s six month deepwater moratorium. As I pointed out, it legally was somewhat astounding the government did not raise Feldman’s conflict at any opportunity:

With this knowledge in the public sphere at least substantially by the night after Feldman’s decision, the government nevertheless did not even mention it as a ground in their attempt to stay Feldman’s ruling at the district court level when they filed their motion to stay at the district court level late the following day. That motion was in front of Feldman himself, so maybe you could rationalize the government not raising it at that point (although I would have posed the motion to stay to the chief judge for the district and included the conflict as grounds for relief were it me).

Having predictably received no relief in their lame request for stay from Feldman, the judge who had just hammered them (not surprising), the government put their tails between their legs and made preparations to seek a stay from the 5th Circuit. Surely the government would forcefully argue the glaringly obvious egregious appearance of both conflict and lack of impartiality once they were free of Feldman and in the Fifth Circuit, right? No, no they didn’t.

When the government filed their motion for stay in the 5th Circuit mid to late day Friday June 25, a full three days after getting hammered by oiled up Judge Feldman, and after Feldman’s most recent 2009 financial disclosure had even started being released to the general public (as evidenced by the literally damning piece on it Rachel Maddow did Friday night), the government STILL did not avail themselves of the glaringly obvious argument of conflict by Feldman. Nary a peep from the fine lawyers at the DOJ on one of the most stunningly obvious arguments of judicial bias in recent memory.

Another week later, and there STILL is no peep from the government on an issue that would be critical to reinstating their moratorium if they really wanted to. But while the government lawyers refuse to zealously litigate the position they claim to support, intervenors represented a by law school clinic professor and two lawyers for environmental groups have done the work the government should have done. On Friday June 2, Defendant-Intervenors filed a Motion to Disqualify Feldman in the district trial court and properly noticed the record at the 5th Circuit.

From the D-I Motion to Disqualify:

Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 455, Defendant-Intervenors Defenders of Wildlife, Sierra Club, Florida Wildlife Federation, Center for Biological Diversity, and Natural Resources Defense Council (collectively “Defenders”) respectfully move this Court to disqualify itself from Continue reading

Judicial Ethics in the Gulf: Judge Feldman’s Conflicts and DOJ Malpractice

Last week Federal district court judge Matin Feldman of the Eastern District of Louisiana (EDLA), in what has become a controversial decision, overturned the six month moratorium on deepwater oil drilling imposed by the Department of the Interior. It was a legally curious decision to start with as it, on its face, appeared to be contrary to the well established standard of review.

Almost immediately from the time Judge Feldman’s decision hit the public conscience, information on Feldman’s undisclosed (at least on the case record at issue) financial ties to the oil and gas exploration industry started coming out of the woodwork. From Saturday’s Washington Post:

The federal judge who presided over a challenge to the Obama administration’s six-month moratorium on deepwater oil drilling simultaneously owned stock in an oil company affected by the ban, according to a financial disclosure statement released Friday.

U.S. District Judge Martin L.C. Feldman sold the stock in Exxon Mobil 14 days after the case was filed in New Orleans by a group of oil service firms — and less than five hours before he struck down the moratorium.

Feldman said in a statement elaborating on the disclosure that he was unaware of his holdings in Exxon Mobil and a smaller oil company until 9:45 p.m. Monday, the day before he issued his ruling.

“Because he remembered that Exxon, who was not a party litigant in the moratorium case, nevertheless had one of the 33 rigs in the Gulf, the judge instructed his broker to sell Exxon and XTO [Energy Inc.] as soon as the market opened the next morning,” according to a statement released by his chambers and reported by Bloomberg News.

Even before this latest disclosure, Feldman was criticized by environmental groups and others for not recusing himself from the case. The groups pointed to his 2008 disclosure form, which showed that he had invested in companies involved in offshore oil and gas exploration.

So Judge Feldman not only held numerous oil and gas interest stocks, but was trading them up to and including the morning of his fateful decision, and doing so out of an admitted realization that he had an appearance of ethical conflict. Feldman owned and was trading Exxon stock, a company whose Gulf of Mexico rigs were losing money at the rate of a half million dollars a day due to the moratorium, during the entire time he was assigned the case. Yet, failing to disclose his appearance of conflict on the record or recuse, Feldman nevertheless proceeded to issue a questionable decision clearly benefitting the oil and exploration industry he is so invested in.

Lest there be any confusion that perhaps Judge Feldman somehow put himself in the clear by suddenly selling off his holdings in Exxon on the morning of June 22 just hours before issuing his surprising opinion Continue reading

What Republicans REALLY Mean When They Say Drill! Baby! Drill!

They mean sex, corruption, and political scandal.

I first covered the scandal that is breaking big today at about the same time as Governor Palin took the oath of office in Alaska. 

This appears to have been the scam: Some time ago, the Interior Department introduced a "royalties in kind" program, which allowed oil companies to pay for the privilege of drilling for oil on our land in kind–in oil and gas–rather than in cold hard cash. The gimmick is that it was supposed to facilitate accounting. Up until recently (don’t worry–I’m going to figure out these dates), the oil went into the Strategic Petroleum Reserve (SPR).* But the SPR apparently is all filled up now, so recently the US government started contracting with companies to sell the oil on the "open market." But, as these things are bound to happen in the BushCo world, we didn’t take open bids for the contracts to sell the oil. We apparently just gave companies with ties to a bunch of Interior Department employees in Denver the contracts, which of course meant we got less money than we otherwise would have.

I even predicted,

How appropriate–this Administration will begin with an oil scandal. And it looks like it will end with one, too. 

That looks to be prescient, as the Department of Interior Inspectors General’s Report describing the scandal has thrown a whole lot of sex and drugs and improper gifts into the mix.

Government officials handling billions of dollars in oil royalties engaged in illicit sex with employees of energy companies they were dealing with and received numerous gifts from them, federal investigators said Wednesday.

The alleged transgressions involve 13 Interior Department employees in Denver and Washington. Their alleged improprieties include rigging contracts, working part-time as private oil consultants, and having sexual relationships with — and accepting golf and ski trips and dinners from — oil company employees, according to three reports released Wednesday by the Interior Department’s inspector general.

The investigations reveal a "culture of substance abuse and promiscuity" by a small group of individuals "wholly lacking in acceptance of or adherence to government ethical standards," wrote Inspector General Earl E. Devaney.

The reports describe a fraternity house atmosphere inside the Denver Minerals Management Service office responsible for marketing the oil and gas that energy companies barter to the government instead of making cash royalty payments for drilling on federal lands. Continue reading

Is Dick Stealing from the US and Giving to His Friends, Again?

Remember the Minerals Management Service? That’s the Department of Interior agency that is supposed to make sure that when oil companies drill on US or Native American lands, the landowner gets a sufficient return for the oil or gas they take out of the land, or, alternately, that a sufficient amount of oil to account for the royalty on the drilling rights is given back to the US. It’s been at the center of scandal before:

For a while, when oil companies drilled oil on federal land, one of three things would happen:

  • The oil companies would cheat and tell the government they drilled less oil than they had
  • When such fraud was identified, DOI would order its auditors to overlook the cheating
  • The byzantine rules governing royalties would make it hard to collect the money you and I are owed

So DOI started a new program. We’d let someone drill oil, and in exchange, the oil company would put a similar amount of oil into the strategic reserve. But when the strategic reserve filled up, the government started using brokers to sell our oil.

It turns out that Susan Wooldridge and Steven Griles had some close ties (as in, sharing a house) to one of the companies bidding to be that broker company, and that that company got to sell our oil even though another broker was willing to charge a higher rate (and therefore pay taxpayers more money). So basically, these two lovebirds accepted a bribe and sold our oil to the lowest bidder.

To fix that problem, they established a Royalty Management Subcommittee, which was supposed to watch out for our interests:

it’s supposed to study:

  • The extent to which existing procedures and processes for reporting and accounting for federal and Indian mineral revenues are sufficient to ensure that the Minerals Management Service receives the correct amount.

  • The audit, compliance and enforcement procedures and processes of the Minerals Management Service to determine if they are adequate to ensure that mineral companies are complying with existing statutes, lease terms, and regulations as they pertain to payment of royalties.

  • The operations of the Royalty in Kind program to ensure that adequate policies, procedures and controls are in place to ensure that decisions to take federal oil and gas royalties in kind result in net benefits to the American people.

Though the Royalty Management Subcommittee proved it wasn’t really interested in transparency and oversight, seeing as how it had a penchant for meeting in secret.

Now, to be fair, the Royalty Management Subcommittee just got started last year, and it takes a long time to reverse Dick Cheney’s corrupt ways. But an IG audit by the Department of Energy has discovered that there are completely inadequate controls on the oil that’s supposed to go into our Strategic Public Reserve, and over a quarter of the oil is disappearing. Continue reading

Emptywheel Twitterverse
bmaz People can talk+squawk ignorantly about the border, and control thereof, but they are politically motivated jackasses http://t.co/XVTrzpC9pB
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bmaz You want horror of Juarez, go see @dcbigjohn feed of last 24 hrs. If you think that is representative, get your head out of your ass. #NOT
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bmaz It was easy for @RubenGallego who I unconditionally supported, to be progressive, will he be so now? @downwithtyranny @ralonzo #TimeTells
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bmaz @Will_Bunch One of these teams may arguably have better pitching than the other.
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bmaz @nicholsong I may join, cause I currently have no dental plan #ThanksObama
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bmaz @nicholsong Also, al-Qaida and ISIS, right?
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bmaz @nicholsong And, heck, parenting is HARD. I mean that. But this shit is just too much.
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bmaz @nicholsong Meh, I have no issue with that. These are not great parents that thought this a good idea.
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bmaz @nicholsong Different times and places though. I would be dead if I had learned to drive where we live now.
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bmaz @nicholsong Hey, my daughter turns 19 tomorrow and has never sought her driver's license. I had my first accident at age 14.
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bmaz @nicholsong This was a freaking UZI pistol with lame stock, at best!
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