'Follow the retirements' New Bush Scandal Helping Big Oil Companies Hide Billions From Government at Taxpayer Expense BuzzFlash Wednesday 24 May 2007 Corruption within the Department of Interior may have allowed oil companies to improperly save billions at the expense of the taxpayers. The Department's Inspector General has already made at least two criminal referals to the FBI and the Justice Department, and Congressional Democrats have launched several investigations and introduced new legislation to fix the problem. In a nutshell, oil companies leasing federal land to drill for oil are required to pay the government royalties based on a percentage of their sales. But under the Royalty-in-Kind program, the companies can pay in the form of oil and gas instead of cash. The problem is that oil prices have increased more than the value of the oil and gas royalty revenues being recieved, meaning that the oil companies are managing to withhold a growing amount of their profits from Uncle Sam. As you might guess, Royalty-in-Kind was proposed and remains supported by the oil industry, and Bush implanted officials with deep ties to the oil industry in charge of the agency responsible for enforcing the program, the Minerals Management Service (MMS). In light of the growing scandal, MMS Director Johnnie Burton has already announced that she will be retiring by the end of May. Burton started an oil exploration business before becoming a staunch Republican politician in Wyoming, where she developed ties with Dick Cheney. Greg Smith became the new head of MMS, but he just announced his own sudden retirement Tuesday. "It appears this Administration uses retirement like some perverse witness protection program," said Rep. Nick Rahall. "Get them out of the spotlight and off the list of in-the-know folks who could provide damaging evidence. Instead of Watergate's 'follow the money,' the Bush Administration has "follow the retirements.'"