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Overhauled MMS slaps $5.2 million fine on BP

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The revamped Minerals Management Service is wasting no time showing the oil and natural gas industry that a new day has dawned.

The Interior Department’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement — created last month in the wake of April’s catastrophic oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico — assessed a $5.2 million civil penalty on BP America for submitting “false, inaccurate and misleading reports” about energy production on Southern Ute Indian Tribal lands in southwestern Colorado, bureau director Michael Bromwich said today.

BP reported incorrect royalty rates and prices to the department and also attributed oil and gas production to the wrong leases, according to an Interior news release. The penalty is not related to the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

The agency’s investigation preceded creation of the new bureau in May, Bromwich said this morning at a hearing before the House Natural Resources Committee. Still, Bromwich said the fine is indicative of the type of hard line the bureau intends to take against companies that try to cheat the government out of money it’s entitled to receive.

It does reflect a seriousness of purpose and an intent to be aggressive in pursuing a company’s violations of royalties and other issues.

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You too can own swag from a disgraced, defunct agency!

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"Think of them as the Earth's tears" -- PEER has quite a way with words

A paperweight containing an oil drop from the first federal outer continental shelf drilling operation in Alaska, now for auction. As PEER said, "Think of them as the Earth's tears."

You remember the Minerals Management Service, right? The agency that completely failed to properly oversee oil rig operations? Employees literally in bed with oil company representatives, jacked up on crystal meth while on the job? Fell on its sword after BP’s Deepwater rig exploded and sank, causing a still-ongoing environmental catastrophe? Now you can own a piece of it.

The watchdog group Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility this morning announced they’re auctioning off a wide assortment of tchotchkes from MMS. And we’ve got to hand it to them: their snark is top-notch.

PEER has 16 items for auction, starting at anywhere from $50 to $125. They’ve got a nice pen set, handy Interior Department ethics guide (mint condition and never opened, perhaps?), lanyard, and an oh-so-cute plush whale, among other items. But it’s the descriptions — the official MMS pedometer is labeled “Walking away from your responsibility can really be the path to better health!” — that are truly golden.

Do I hear ten? Tentententen twentytwentytwenty thirtythirtythirty SOLD AMERICAN!

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Bernstock update: Postal sole-source contracting rules tightened

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The scandal involving former U.S. Postal Service executive Robert Bernstock has yielded what appear to be some big changes to the rules governing sole-source contracts. Postal Service spokeswoman Joanne Veto just sent me some amended contracting rules that were published this week in response to the Office of Inspector General’s investigation:

• First, most postal executives will no longer be able to approve their own department’s sole-source contracts worth more than $1 million. From now on, seven-figure deals awarded noncompetitively must be approved by Vice President for Supply Management Susan Brownell.

Under the old rules, all noncompetitive contracts worth more than $250,000 had to be approved by the vice president of the organization requesting the contract. This allowed Bernstock to steer contracts to former business associates and friends, and then approve the deals with little outside oversight.

However, this will not change the rules for noncompetitive contracts between $250,000 and $1 million. Three of the contracts Bernstock steered to former business associates fell squarely in that area.

Read the rest of this entry »

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Corporate giants with hearts of gold

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Corporate Responsibility Magazine released today its list of the top 10 “best corporate citizens” in government contracting. TellyMonster

The magazine took the top 100 contractors listed on USAspending.gov and applied the same methodology it uses to produce its annual “100 Best Corporate Citizens” list. (The necessary information was available only for the 37 publicly traded companies on the list.) Firms are judged on their environmental impact, employee relations, corporate governance, financial responsibility, philanthropy, and human-rights policies.

And, drum roll please … the best corporate citizen in government contracting for 2010 is … Hewlett-Packard!!! Well, good for them. Rounding out the top five are IBM, Merck, Dell, and something called McKesson Corp., which I’ve never heard of but is apparently the largest health-care company in the world, according to Wikipedia. Ranking in the bottom five were L-3 Communications Holdings, Honeywell, McDermott, Oshkosh and Valero Energy Corp. — however, a special category of shame is reserved for Pfizer, which isn’t even allowed to be on the list and instead gets a “red card” because it was recently fined $2.3 billion by the U.S. Department of Justice for bribing doctors.

So what are federal acquisition units supposed to do with this information? Well, they’re still trying to figure that out. The Corporate Responsibility Officers Association has formed something called the “Corporate Excellence for Government Roundtable” that is “committed to improving transparency and responsibility among government contractors” will hold its first meeting tomorrow.

It all sort of sounds like a bunch of fluff, but General Services Administration administrator Martha Johnson is taking it seriously: She’s scheduled to speak at tomorrow’s meeting and participate in the discussion. Maybe GSA and other agencies are looking for new ways to take action against shady or unsavory contractors.

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Read the postal OIG report on Robert Bernstock

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Former Postal Service executive Robert Bernstock

Former Postal Service executive Robert Bernstock

The U.S. Postal Service’s Office of Inspector General today released its report on former marketing executive Robert Bernstock in response to a Federal Times Freedom of Information Act request. Our story on his alleged staffing and contracting abuses just went online here, but you can download the entire report by clicking here.

Our original stories that broke the news on four sole-source contracts he steered to associates he called “friends” can be found here and here. Bernstock announced his resignation May 12 and he officially left the agency June 4.

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More on OMB’s performance reviews

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Shelley Metzenbaum, OMB’s associate director for performance and personnel management, issued a memo on performance management today that didn’t seem to say much beyond previously announced plans to meet with agencies on their high-priority goals and set up a website to track agencies’ performance.

One interesting line, though, was this one: “Agencies should consider this year a transition year during which OMB and the [Performance Improvement Council] will move to a more dynamic performance planning, management, improvement, and reporting framework that is useful, streamlined and coherent.”

This seems to indicate that OMB is going to establish some kind of performance-management system or checklist that agencies use, even though Metzenbaum has said before that OMB didn’t want to do that. Or perhaps this just refers to OMB’s performance website?

I’m checking this out with OMB, but at first blush this memo doesn’t appear to be a change in direction from OMB’s vision of using outcome-based, data-driven analysis and holding agencies accountable for progress toward their high-priority goals. We’ll be watching to see how agencies live up to these expectations when they’re explaining to OMB this summer why they want to cut Program X from their fiscal 2012 budget, but not Project Y.

UPDATE 6/29/10:

Here’s the response to my questions I received from OMB press secretary Jean Weinberg. Do with this information what you will.

1. The transition year refers to the period during which agencies are producing documents to meet the requirements of GPRA, which include the FY 2012 Performance Budget/Annual Performance Plan and the FY 2010 Annual Performance Report.

2. The new “framework” is expected to cover the full performance improvement process – not just plan and report production. The framework is expected to include key steps such as leaders setting priorities, analyzing results to identify performance variations and understand the reasons for them, holding regular data-driven reviews, and ensuring accountability and transparency of results. This new approach is exemplified by the High Priority Performance Goal effort, the launching pad for the Administration’s broader performance improvement and transparency efforts.”

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OMB to halt 30 financial systems projects

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The Office of Management and Budget is going to announce today that it’s halting all financial systems modernization projects across the government.

That means 30 projects worth $20 billion are now effectively on hold until OMB can come up with a way to improve the procurement process in this area.

The most well-known failure in this area is the Veterans Affairs Department’s CoreFLS project (since replaced by a new program called FLITE that hasn’t gone much better). The department has spent a total of about $300 million on this boondoggle over 10 years and has seen no tangible benefits.

Jeff Zeints, OMB’s deputy director for management, is going to take four months to develop guidance on how to improve the federal procurement process for information technology. This is a source of frequent complaints from IT and acquisition officials — the government process is just too slow to keep up with rapid advancements in IT.

OMB is having a conference call in about a half hour to discuss its strategy — we’ll have an update for you later this afternoon.

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Federal agencies of yesteryear

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NPR’s Planet Money blog has a cute little rundown of federal agencies that have changed their names in the past, prompted by the Minerals Management Service’s rebranding as the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement (try to say that acronym three times fast).

This sort of thing intrigues me so I Googled around a bit and found a nice list on Wikipedia of defunct federal agencies.

Anyone remember the Board of Tea Appeals (which apparently hung around until 1996, somehow?!)?

How about the Board of Economic Warfare? The Federal Theatre Project?

Oh, for the days when a fed could sip a nice cup of tea at the theatre after a long day of economic warfare, without that meddling Congress ruining all the fun.

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Interior’s website goes back in time

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Visitors to www.interior.gov might feel like they’ve entered a time warp. The Deepwater Horizon oil spill never occurred, the Minerals Management Service remains intact and the lead story on the home page is about Interior Secretary Ken Salazar commending employees for all their hard work…in 2009.

So who set back the clock?

It looks like Interior failed to link together the various iterations of its Web address. Visitors who type in www.doi.gov will get the current website, which was overhauled at the beginning of the year. But visitors who type in www.interior.gov will see a world that appears to have ended shortly after the calendar turned to 2010.

Clicking on a few of the tabs, such as “DOI Home” and “Bureaus and Offices” and will take visitors to the updated site. Yet many other links are broken. And some — such as the news tab — continue to function as if the site is current, even though the most recent news article was posted Dec. 22.

We here at Fedline hope Interior resolves the issue soon. Of course, things could be worse. It’s not like Interior’s website has been shut down or anything.

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They always come in threes…

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kumarFirst Peter Orszag. Then Gen. Stanley McChrystal. And CNN just reported that Kal Penn, better known as Kumar, has officially left the White House. It’s hard to tell which will be the most devastating loss to the administration.

Seriously, though, the Washington Post’s Al Kamen has a roundup of potential Orszag replacements here, including current Office of Personnel Management Director John Berry. But whoever ends up replacing Orszag will face the thankless task of reducing the nation’s deficit, as Slate’s Christopher Beam details here.

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