US government department criticised for failing to collect oil revenues

Here’s the real scandal: Interior department, investigating polar bear studies, accused of failures that could have cost government billions in uncollected royalties

A US watchdog has designated the interior department – which has been investigating polar bear studies – at 'high risk' of fraud, waste and abuse. Photograph: Paul Souders/Corbis

A US government department that has spent six months investigating potential fraud in polar bear studies has failed to collect tens of billions of dollars in royalties from oil companies, it has emerged.

Investigators from the Department of Interior called in a government wildlife biologist, Charles Monnett, for questioning on his design of an ongoing polar bear study, which was conducted on a budget of $1.2m over seven years.

Monnett was suspended on 18 July for unspecified “integrity issues” related to the study, and an alleged oversight of about $50m in research contracts.

But while the interior department has been focusing on polar bears, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) has faulted the department for failing to collect billions in royalties from oil and gas companies operating in the Gulf of Mexico and the Arctic.

The GAO designated the department at “high risk” of fraud, waste, abuse and mismanagement in a report to Congress in February 2011.

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