No, Helen Thomas has not been replaced by Ken Salazar, but the Interior Secretary did take possession of her high-profile front-row seat in the White House Briefing Room this afternoon, becoming the first Obama administration cabinet secretary to appear at a press briefing. It’s the first time anyone can remember a cabinet official sitting in the press seats during a daily White House news briefing. (See the video above.)
Salazar’s playful move followed a serious announcement: he will travel tomorrow to the Lakewood, Colo. offices of the Minerals Management Service (MMS) to unveil plans to reform the entire Interior Department.
“Over the last eight years, the Department of the Interior has been tarnished by ethical lapses and criminal behavior that has extended to the highest levels of government,” Salazar said, noting that “It is the department that the American people associate with Jack Abramoff.”
MMS has been the home to most of the high-profile ethical lapses. It manages the leases for natural gas, oil and other mineral resources on the outer continental shelf and last year it collected roughly $23 billion in revenues. Three separate inspector general reports released last September revealed cases of wrongdoing among current and former staffers. The reports found that staffers accepted gifts from oil and gas industry representatives, including tickets to concerts and sporting events. They also allege sexual misconduct between MMS employees and industry representatives and found that a program manager bought cocaine from a subordinate.