May 27th, 2010
10:48 AM ET
10 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.

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. phoenix86

    Doesn't matter. Obama is going to use this as an excuse to stop domestic exploration and further increase our dependence on foreign oil, Chinese lending, and expensive (and unreliable) renewable.

    Obama's inexperience, ideology and ignorance continue to be a drag on the United States.

    May 27, 2010 10:59 am at 10:59 am |
  2. Claudia, Houston, Tx

    This woman had 8 years serving under GWB and now is a short-termer with President Obama.

    May 27, 2010 11:00 am at 11:00 am |
  3. Angus McDugan

    Good start. Now let's fire everyone in her chain of command all the way up to the top.

    How about that?

    May 27, 2010 11:01 am at 11:01 am |
  4. david thomas

    Why did this take so long?

    May 27, 2010 11:07 am at 11:07 am |
  5. Mike

    About time.. And while they are it, fire her top managers. Start a top dow evaluation of ALL personnel in the agency. Sounds like they are mostly inept, lazy and corrupt.

    May 27, 2010 11:07 am at 11:07 am |
  6. Terry

    Gosh, that only took six months. We have known about the bedding of most of the people at MMS by the oil industry managers who were also screwing the US Taxpayers, so this firing was long overdue. Now, I would like to see criminal charges filed for accepting gratuities from BP and other oil companies, while failing to pay income tax on the ill gotten booty.

    May 27, 2010 11:09 am at 11:09 am |
  7. Sniffit

    And so begins the smack down (hopefully)...go get 'em BO...redeem the delay. I give it until Monday at the latest for people to be cowering, making excuses and selling their colleagues up the river in bids to save their own hides.

    May 27, 2010 11:09 am at 11:09 am |
  8. cspurgeon

    I think criminal charges should be looked at....

    May 27, 2010 11:10 am at 11:10 am |
  9. Tyler

    Tar and Feather!! Tar and Feather!!! Let's get the BP execs too!! BP doesn't deserve to exist anymore!!!

    May 27, 2010 11:12 am at 11:12 am |
  10. Henry Miller, Libertarian

    And, I hope, someone's starting an investigation of her and her former department for corruption.

    May 27, 2010 11:14 am at 11:14 am |
  11. geecee

    Don't stop there, clear out the entire Department. What a bunch of criminals these people are. Taking bribes and getting cozy with the Oil Industry that they are supposed to oversee – to all our detriment.

    May 27, 2010 11:15 am at 11:15 am |
  12. Fred Wink

    Too bad we can't fire the person responsible for hiring her, Wait, maybe we can if we can get an investigation into what this transparent leader knew about Sestak. That is not very likely so, guess we fire him in 2012.
    And remember this November which folks have supported Obama's agenda and vote them out in droves.

    May 27, 2010 11:20 am at 11:20 am |
  13. Dominican mama 4 Obama

    Oooops! Huge Oil spill. Heads will roll. New sheriff in town. You don't get promoted for dropping the ball. Remember those days of yore?!
    Glad they're gone.

    May 27, 2010 11:21 am at 11:21 am |
  14. LE

    There's a shocker.

    May 27, 2010 11:21 am at 11:21 am |
  15. Carmelle

    Not sure if she was corrupt too, but I think she got fired for being incompetent. But since the 30 day review was delivered to the WH late last night, it probably became clear that she did nothing in her 10 months in office.

    That's called: accountability. We need more!!!

    May 27, 2010 11:23 am at 11:23 am |
  16. gary

    About time somebody got fired. Start with the top and work your way down. Probably at least 80 percent need to go.

    The majority of employees that work for any state or federal agency do so because they don't really want to accomplish any actual work.

    I can go into any state or federal office in my city and the majority of the employees are not interested in the public, but just watching the clock. It is also amazing how many of the working public are in chat rooms during working hours. In the private sector, as a director of an international company, not only was my time accountable to my boss, but all the employees working under my direction had to account for their time.

    If the government did a time and motion study on all employees, at least fifty percent could be eliminated.

    May 27, 2010 11:23 am at 11:23 am |
  17. Ken in NC

    Well he has finally done something that has long been needed. Now I wonder if he can take the next big step and fire his Door Man, Newt Gingrich.

    May 27, 2010 11:28 am at 11:28 am |
  18. Dutch/Bad Newz, VA

    Good riddance.

    May 27, 2010 11:28 am at 11:28 am |
  19. Mark from Louisiana

    I wonder if she was qualified for this job, or did she work in the obummer campaign and the job was just a payback?

    May 27, 2010 11:29 am at 11:29 am |
  20. S.B. Stein E.B. NJ

    If she was the one that allowed these problems and corruption to go on with the MMS, then she and others need to be fired or otherwised disciplined.

    May 27, 2010 11:30 am at 11:30 am |
  21. Another case

    Another case of the wrong person being put in charge of something they know nothing about, seems this admin is very good at doing that,I wonder how much oilfield work or mining this woman has ever been around. Now I see they are calling news conferences to defend their handling of this mess, too late, even the spin doctor gibbs can't make this look good. For weeks Louisiana has tried to get federal permits to build berms between the barrier islands to stop the oil from reaching the marsh, while the so called leaders sit on their butts and did nothing.Well it has now reached the shore.Finally the media is seeing the light about this bunch and the inept inexperience.Keep on campaigning.

    May 27, 2010 11:32 am at 11:32 am |
  22. Anonymous

    These are all George Bush plants that he put in place just before he left office in january. Good riddens to this one and the many more that will follow this lady.

    May 27, 2010 11:32 am at 11:32 am |
  23. Slick William

    OMG a government bureaucrat fired for accountability? What is the Obama Administration coming to, next thing you know regulators will actually have to take personal responsibility for their actions and oversights. Meanwhile the lawyers lick their chops at the very thought of fresh meat!

    May 27, 2010 11:33 am at 11:33 am |
  24. Dave

    Elected officials or appointed officals serving the country in DC should be held to a higher standard. IF the allegations are true (and not just more Obama finger pointing to everyone but himself), she should be charged with something, not just fired.

    May 27, 2010 11:34 am at 11:34 am |
  25. Bryan

    Its about time! Now they just need to separate MMS from the department of the interior and put it under the oversight of the EPA and Army Corps of Engineers.

    May 27, 2010 11:35 am at 11:35 am |
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