BEHOLDEN TO BIG OIL…. If I didn’t know better, I might just think the Bush administration is a little too cozy with the oil industry.

The Justice Department is investigating whether the director of a multibillion-dollar oil-trading program at the Interior Department has been paid as a consultant for oil companies hoping for contracts.

The director of the program and three subordinates, all based in Denver, have been transferred to different jobs and have been ordered to cease all contacts with the oil industry until the investigation is completed some time next spring, according to officials involved.

The officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the investigation had not been announced publicly, said investigators were worried that senior government officials had been steering huge oil-trading contracts to favored companies.

This news, of course, comes shortly after we learned that former Interior Secretary Gale Norton has sailed through the revolving door to become a lawyer for Royal Dutch Shell.

Which comes shortly after revelations that officials at Bush’s Interior Department tried to hide information that federal incentives for oil drilling in the Gulf of Mexico isn’t cost effective, doesn’t produce a lot of oil, and is generally just a massive give-away to oil companies.

Which comes shortly after news the Interior Department has barely bothered to collect royalties from oil companies, which the industry owes the government for drilling on federal property, in recent years.

If administration officials aren’t careful, the public might get the impression that they’re beholden to Big Oil. Wouldn’t that be shocking?

Steve Benen

Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.