December 3, 2006
Blowing the Whistle on Big Oil
By EDMUND L. ANDREWS
DURING a 22-year career, Bobby L. Maxwell routinely won accolades and awards as one of the Interior Department’s best auditors in the nation’s oil patch, snaring promotions that eventually had him supervising a staff of 120 people.
He and his team scrutinized the books of major oil producers that collectively pumped billions of dollars worth of oil and gas every year from land and coastal waters owned by the public. Along the way, the auditors recovered hundreds of millions of dollars from companies that shortchanged the government on royalties.
“Mr. Maxwell’s career has been characterized by exceptional performance and significant contributions,” wrote Gale A. Norton, then the secretary of the interior, in a 2003 citation. Ms. Norton praised Mr. Maxwell’s “perseverance and leadership” while cataloguing his “many outstanding achievements.”
Less than two years later, the Interior Department eliminated his job in what it called a “reorganization.” That came exactly one week after a federal judge in Denver unsealed a lawsuit in which Mr. Maxwell contended that a major oil company had spent years cheating on royalty payments.