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

Head of Minerals Management Service leaves post

[cnn-photo-caption image= caption ="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.

In one case, an inspector in the MMS office in Lake Charles, Louisiana, conducted inspections of four offshore platforms while negotiating a job with the company, the report stated.

The Lake Charles investigation was launched shortly after another scandal emerged from within the MMS. A September 2008 inspector general's report found regulators in the agency's Colorado office received improper gifts from energy industry representatives and engaged in illegal drug use and inappropriate sexual relations with them.

Salazar recently called the allegations of MMS corruption "evidence of the cozy relationship between some elements of [the agency] and the oil and gas industry." He pledged to follow through with the Interior Department inspector general's recommendations, "including taking any and all appropriate personnel actions including termination, discipline and referrals of any wrongdoing for criminal prosecution."

MMS collected nearly $10 billion in royalties from the energy and mining industries in 2009. Salazar recently announced that he was splitting up the agency to separate its energy development, enforcement and revenue collection divisions, saying they have "conflicting missions" that needed to be separated.

The associate director for the agency's Offshore Minerals Management Program also is leaving at the end of May, a month earlier than planned, in the wake of the Gulf spill. That official, Chris Oynes, launched the investigation that resulted in former New Orleans, Louisiana, supervisor Donald Howard's firing in 2007. Howard later pleaded guilty after being accused of failing to report gifts valued at more than $6,600 from an offshore drilling contractor.

As part of the growing push to crack down on the MMS, Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Florida, introduced legislation Wednesday requiring federal oil industry regulators to wait at least two years after leaving government service before going to work for companies they helped regulate.

The bill also would bar regulators from accepting gifts from oil companies, would require regulators to divest themselves of any stock they may currently hold in oil companies, and would prohibit regulators from part-time employment in the industry.

soundoff (50 Responses)
  1. Joe

    Now fire the rest of the clowns who were in bed with the oil execs and not doing their jobs. A clean sweep the way Reagan fired all the air traffic controllers would be a good start to sending a message to all the slackers on the government payroll. And would do wonders for public perceptions as well.

    May 27, 2010 11:39 am at 11:39 am |
  2. mj

    Widespread corruption in government ... No surprise here. What is surprising is that we are allowing government to take over more and more of the private sector. It has to be stopped. Government has zero knowledge when it comes to business – and even less when it comes to listening to the American people.

    May 27, 2010 11:40 am at 11:40 am |
  3. Paul from Phoenix

    Since this is all under the Secretary of the Interior, shouldn't he be forced to resign as well?

    May 27, 2010 11:40 am at 11:40 am |
  4. Dominican mama 4 Obama

    Oh how we yearn for the good old days of graft, nepotism, and general corruption. Where officials responsible for our well-being were too busy stuffing their pockets and their faces courtesy of the very same elements they were supposed to keep their eyes on and regulate.

    Gone are the days of being promoted for a job NOT DONE.

    Those WERE the days...... sigh!

    May 27, 2010 11:40 am at 11:40 am |
  5. Just Saying

    Now, go down the line and fire all of them!!!!!

    May 27, 2010 11:44 am at 11:44 am |
  6. mike

    its about time someone gets fired instead of getting a metal or promoted
    like the republicans did during the bush years

    May 27, 2010 11:44 am at 11:44 am |
  7. Pragmatic

    When classy people fire the people they've hired , they allow those leaving a little dignity. Everyone knows the truth but adding tar and feathers helps no one move on: lessons learned ... and you gotta believe that everyone is paying closer attention ... wondering who is next to go is a good motivator!

    May 27, 2010 11:51 am at 11:51 am |
  8. William A. Schaedler

    Good! Now more of these blatantly incompetents need to be dismissed. This country is crying out for sensibility.

    May 27, 2010 11:56 am at 11:56 am |
  9. PatrickUSA

    ALL government regulators should be barred from employment with the firms they are regulating for two years, not just those in the oil industry. They should also be prohibited from receiving gifts.

    May 27, 2010 11:56 am at 11:56 am |
  10. Pam

    Now have we had enough?
    It is past time for Cheney to be put in jail!

    May 27, 2010 11:56 am at 11:56 am |
  11. Rickster

    Obama will be at his arrogant, appalling best at today's press conference. He will blame everybody else for the Gulf disaster and then try to convince people that he was on top of it the entire time and with early reports that BP's "top-kill" resolution may be working he will try to take credit for the fix. Of course he will only convince brainless, simpleton democrats just like he did when they elected this fool.

    May 27, 2010 11:56 am at 11:56 am |
  12. Bev

    Should have been fired within the first week of the oil spill. I voted for Obama, but he has been far too slow in responding to this oil spill, and far too trusting of the oil companies promises. There should have been immediate and swift action on the part of the federal government. Obama, with all of his innate intelligence, needs to trust less in his advisers and more to his instincts as a man of integrity who promised the country it would not be business as usual once he was elected president. Unfortunately, it is all too familiar business as usual.

    May 27, 2010 11:57 am at 11:57 am |
  13. chenna benna

    Good. She needed to go and the whole agency needs to be shaken up. Good riddance.

    May 27, 2010 11:59 am at 11:59 am |
  14. Mike

    How much more corruption is going to be uncovered within this administration. Trying to bribe someone not to run against spectre in Pennsylvania coupled with this, if this was a Republican administration then liberals and the mindless main street media would be up in arms, but being its nobamby and the demorats there is no out cry. Oh well, we will start taking out the trash in November.

    May 27, 2010 12:00 pm at 12:00 pm |
  15. Impeach Obummer now!

    If it looks like a scapegoat...

    Obama should fire himself! The emperor has no clothes – and a very thin skin!

    Where is the press?

    May 27, 2010 12:02 pm at 12:02 pm |
  16. Bill

    Federal employees need not be above other in job security. A job done badly must have repercussions. Good job Mr. Salazar & President Obama in firing her.

    May 27, 2010 12:05 pm at 12:05 pm |
  17. billy

    Salazar didn't resign (should he?) it was Birnbaum.

    And Nelson is just grandstanding (welcome to Congressional politics!) There is already a law prohibiting gifts, and another prohibiting going to work for industries you regulate or supervise. But apparently it is only enforced against DOD civilians and military.

    May 27, 2010 12:10 pm at 12:10 pm |
  18. GI Joe

    Shove her and her corporate loving employees down the hole and tell them to breath. That's what they have done to the sea creatures and the future of the gulf. ALL FOR MONEY and jobs.

    She should have been fired years ago and MMS should have been cleaned up by the previous administration.

    President Obama keeps getting blamed for things oil barons Bush/Cheney did to support their friends. Cheney himself said the extra safety feature $500,000 was too much to expect from the oil companies (his buddies).

    Lock Cheney up and severely chastise Shrub for letting that evil man run this country into the ground – $35 million from Haliburton when he became VP – anybody smell favors?

    May 27, 2010 12:10 pm at 12:10 pm |
  19. Doug

    Salazar didn't say that Salazar resigned but that Birnbaum resigned.

    May 27, 2010 12:13 pm at 12:13 pm |
  20. richard

    this should be only the beginning.......... them folks that should of been watching for the cause and disruption of the stock market instead of watching porn should no longer be on the gov't dole if this is the case. the "black woman at the pentagon" who gave access and carte blanc to[ the salahi's] has no right holding a job in the gov't when she was the main one who put the president of the united states in harms way w/ her invite herein lies the corrupt way to embarass the white house . if was let go then the root cause [the women at the pentagon] . she should be done.... asap. most of the hold overs from the bush admin...... done. it would be nice to see this.

    May 27, 2010 12:15 pm at 12:15 pm |
  21. Carl

    Nothing like the pot calling the kettle black! Well, as Congress demands that corrupt government officials in MMS be fired, we Americans will fire the corrupt government officials in Congress! There is no difference many Congressmen accept similar freebies from special interest groups and lobbyists? Let's be even more least MMS personnel aren't receiving campaign contributions from the people THEY regulate...unlike how things work in Congress. FIRE CONGRESS!

    May 27, 2010 12:18 pm at 12:18 pm |
  22. Coherent1

    You mean, there weren't any regulations in place to keep MMS from accepting bribes, positions, or any rules requiring them to divest stocks held in oil and minerals companies??? One by one the corrupt companies will be expose. So will the corrupt Feds and politicians.

    May 27, 2010 12:20 pm at 12:20 pm |
  23. Obama the liar

    the body count continues, another one under the bus.

    May 27, 2010 12:22 pm at 12:22 pm |
  24. ogleme

    Yes! No more strange bedfellows. ...Oil and regulators don't mix! Keep cleaning house, Mr. Obama.

    May 27, 2010 12:22 pm at 12:22 pm |
  25. BILL, WI

    Accept her resignation but prosecute the crooked inspectors.

    May 27, 2010 12:42 pm at 12:42 pm |
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