Jun 21, 2010 8:36 PM by Chris Welty
WASHINGTON (AP) - A former federal prosecutor took over Monday
as director of a new government agency that oversees offshore
drilling and other oil and gas development.
Michael R. Bromwich, 56, a former assistant U.S. attorney and
Justice Department inspector general, will lead a reorganization of
the agency formerly known as the Minerals Management Service.
Bromwich's arrival as head of the 1,700-employee agency came as
Interior Secretary Ken Salazar signed an order renaming the agency
the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement.
The agency, which both regulates the oil and gas industry and
collects billions in royalties from it, will be known as the Bureau
of Ocean Energy or BOE for short, Salazar said.
Under its previous name, the drilling agency was criticized for
a cozy relationship with oil companies and lax oversight.
The Obama administration plans to break up the agency into three
separate entities to eliminate conflicts of interest. President
Barack Obama announced Bromwich's appointment last week and said
Bromwich would have a mandate to implement far-reaching changes and
the resources to do it.
"For a decade or more, the cozy relationship between the oil
companies and the federal agency was allowed to go unchecked,"
Obama said. "That cannot and will not happen anymore."
The agency's former director, Elizabeth Birnbaum, stepped down
under pressure last month after less than a year in office. Both
Birnbaum and Bromwich are graduates of Harvard Law School. In a
departure from previous administrations, neither worked in the oil
and gas industry before their appointments as head of the oversight
The agency, an arm of the Interior Department, collects revenues
from federal leases for offshore and onshore drilling, sells leases
for drilling operations and enforces laws and regulations that
apply to drilling.
The drilling agency has come under repeated fire for inadequate
review of oil giant BP's plans for deep-water drilling at the well
now spewing millions of gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico.
Salazar said Bromwich has a strong track record of reforming the
way organizations work, both in the public and private sectors.
Bromwich was inspector general at the Justice Department from
1994-1999 and served from 2002-2008 as the independent monitor for
the District of Columbia's police department, ensuring compliance
with civil rights and other laws. He also conducted special
investigations into allegations of incompetence and misconduct at
the FBI Laboratory and investigated the FBI's conduct in the
Aldrich Ames spy case.
Bromwich "will be a key part of our team as we continue to
change the way the Department of the Interior does business ... and
lead the reforms that will raise the bar for offshore oil and gas
operations," Salazar said.
In a related development, Salazar and Bromwich met Monday with a
group of scientists who have complained that their views were
improperly used to justify a federal moratorium on deep-water
The scientists, who had consulted with Salazar on a May 27
report on drilling safety, said the Interior Department falsely
implied that they had agreed to a "blanket moratorium" that they
actually opposed. The scientists said the drilling moratorium went
too far and warned that it may have a lasting impact on the
A spokeswoman for Salazar said the May 27 report was not
intended to imply that all experts from the National Academy of
Engineering had agreed to the moratorium.
"By listing the members of the NAE that peer-reviewed the 22
safety recommendations contained in the report, we didn't mean to
imply that they also agreed with the moratorium on deep-water
drilling," said spokeswoman Kendra Barkoff. "We acknowledge that
they were not asked to review or comment on the proposed moratorium
and that they peer-reviewed the report on a technical basis."