Department of the Interior DOI

A Hard Sell… US Interior Department Struggles To Recruit Offshore Drilling Safety Chief

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October 2, 2011
Department of the Interior DOIWASHINGTON (Dow Jones)–The Interior Department is struggling to recruit a top official for its offshore oil-drilling agency, in large part because qualified candidates don’t want to deal with the political heat that accompanies the job, Interior officials said Friday.

Efforts to recruit a director for the newly formed Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement follows months in which offshore-drilling regulators have become the target of intense criticism from Capitol Hill lawmakers and energy industry representatives who accuse the regulators of stifling oil production and hurting the Gulf Coast economy.

Earlier this month, Rep. Jeff Landry (R., La.) reportedly accused federal regulators of acting like “the CIA and Gestapo,” prompting a heated exchange with Michael Bromwich, director of the Interior Department’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement.

The top slot at the safety bureau opened up following a massive overhaul of an Interior Department agency that used to oversee all aspects of offshore oil drilling: both the collection of revenue as well as the enforcement of safety standards. In the wake of the Deepwater Horizon oil, that agency–known as the Minerals Management Service–was accused of conflicts of interest and broken into three separate agencies.

The Interior Department announced Friday it had completed the reorganization of the Minerals Management Service. The safety bureau will regulate permitting and inspections, while the two other agencies will be responsible for revenue collection and leasing.

Speaking with reporters Friday to mark the occasion, Bromwich said some candidates have turned down offers to lead the bureau because they didn’t want to deal with the political heat that would likely accompany it.

“A couple of quite-qualified candidates specifically said they didn’t want any part of the politics that came with it,” Bromwich said. He added that he will serve as the temporary director until a permanent candidate can be found.

Bromwich, who was recruited last year to help oversee the reorganization of the Minerals Management Service, has often sparred with Capitol Hill lawmakers who accuse him of stalling oil production in the Gulf of Mexico.

Bromwich has had to defend the Obama administration’s decision to suspend deepwater drilling after the Gulf of Mexico oil spill and is frequently criticized for the pace at which the Interior Department approves permits for new drilling projects.

Bromwich has acted “with the patience of Job,” Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said Friday. “We do deal with some very difficult issues with Congress.”

One recent incident involved Louisiana Congressman Landry, who reportedly accused Interior regulators of acting like the “CIA and Gestapo” after visiting the department’s New Orleans office to ask about the status of certain permits. After having to wait in the lobby for 20 minutes, Landry said he was told top officials were not in the office and that he would have to return at another time.

The incident sparked a heated exchange between Landry and Bromwich in the following days.

Bromwich sent Landry a letter, saying Landry’s reference to the Nazi secret police was “simply unacceptable from anyone, but especially from a public official.”

Landry replied with a letter of his own, saying Bromwich was mischaracterizing his comments. “The people of South Louisiana sent me to Congress to do a job and part of that job is to provide oversight to ensure that taxpayer-funded offices are indeed completing the functions for which they were created,” Landry said.

-By Tennille Tracy, Dow Jones Newswires

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