July 26th, 2010
07:50 AM ET
4 years ago

Fight brews over drilling watchdog

The agency that oversees offshore drilling is up for a complete overhaul.
The agency that oversees offshore drilling is up for a complete overhaul.

New York (CNNMoney.com) - The government was supposed to keep an eye on offshore oil drilling, it was supposed to make sure nothing went wrong.

Clearly, something went very wrong. Now the agency that oversees offshore drilling – already entangled in a sex, drugs and rubber-stamping scandal even before the BP disaster – is up for a complete overhaul.

Formerly the Minerals Management Service (MMS), the Obama administration has renamed it the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement.

Plans are to further split the agency up into three separate divisions, all under the Department of Interior. The idea is to remove an apparent conflict of interest – charging one agency with both ensuring safety and maximizing oil revenues for the federal government.

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May 27th, 2010
10:48 AM ET
5 years ago

Head of Minerals Management Service leaves post

Elizabeth Birnbaum, the director of the Minerals Management Service, has been fired.
Elizabeth Birnbaum, the director of the Minerals Management Service, has been fired.

Washington (CNN) – Minerals Management Service Director Elizabeth Birnbaum resigned Thursday as head of the Interior Department's scandal-plagued Minerals Management Service, the department's chief said. Two sources told CNN that Birnbaum had been fired.

The Minerals Management Service (MMS) is involved in federal oversight of offshore oil drilling. Birnbaum's resignation letter cast her decision to leave as a consequence of a decision to reorganize the agency following April's explosion of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico. The explosion resulted in a massive oil spill that well owner BP and federal authorities are still trying to cap.

"As you move forward with the reorganization of Minerals Management Service, you will be requiring ... new leaders," Birnbaum wrote in a letter to Interior Secretary Ken Salazar.

President Barack Obama said Thursday that he didn't know whether Birnbaum had been fired or chose to resign on her own. Speaking before a House subcommittee, Salazar insisted Birnbaum had resigned "on her own terms and own volition."

She "is a strong and very effective person who ... helped us break through the very difficult things which we have a lot more work to do," Salazar said. "She helped us with addressing a very broken system. And all I can really [say] is that she is a good public servant."

Birnbaum, a former high level staffer on Capitol Hill, became head of the MMS in July 2009.

A recently released federal report highlighted what many observers have characterized as widespread corruption at the agency. Among other things, the report, issued by the Interior Department's inspector general, revealed that federal inspectors overseeing oil drilling in the Gulf of Mexico accepted meals and tickets to sporting events from companies they monitored.

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May 25th, 2010
01:18 PM ET
5 years ago

Oil rig inspectors took company gifts, watchdog finds

Washington (CNN) - Federal inspectors overseeing oil drilling in the Gulf of Mexico accepted meals and tickets to sporting events from companies they monitored, according to a new report from the Interior Department's inspector general.

In one case, an inspector in the Minerals Management Service office in Lake Charles, Louisiana, conducted inspections of four offshore platforms while negotiating a job with the company, the report states. Others in the same office accepted tickets to the 2005 Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl, a college football bowl game. One inspector said, "Everyone has gotten some sort of gift before at some point" from companies they regulated, according to the report.

"Through numerous interviews, we found a culture where the acceptance of gifts from oil and gas companies were widespread throughout that office," the report states. But that culture waned after a supervisor in the agency's New Orleans, Louisiana, regional office was fired for taking a gift from a regulated company in 2007.

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Filed under: Energy • Minerals Management Service