Deficiencies in the Department of the Interior OIG Investigation of the Powder River Basin Coal Lease Sale

RCED-84-167: Published: Jun 11, 1984. Publicly Released: Jun 13, 1984.

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Pursuant to congressional requests, GAO reviewed the conduct of a Department of the Interior, Office of the Inspector General (OIG) investigation into the Powder River Basin coal lease sale to determine the adequacy of the investigation and identify issues left unresolved by the investigation.

GAO found that OIG released three reports on the Powder River coal lease sale: one focused on alleged leaks of proprietary data, one identified several apparent leaks but did not completely resolve the issues involved, and one focused on two senior Interior officials' acceptance of a dinner from coal industry representatives. GAO found that the three reports were incomplete and unreliable. The investigations were begun long after the first allegations of a leak and were terminated prematurely, despite the belief of OIG field investigators that the various leads they had uncovered required further investigation. In addition, GAO found that: (1) information contained in the three OIG reports was erroneous and contradictory; (2) leads concerning alleged leaks were not thoroughly investigated; (3) important discrepancies raised by the investigations were never resolved; (4) witnesses provided conflicting information that was never fully investigated; and (5) the three reports did not comply with OIG standards regarding accuracy, completeness, and independent review and approval. GAO believes that Interior should further investigate the Powder River coal lease sale to resolve all unanswered questions and then take appropriate action based on the results of the investigation.

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