Obama picks official to head oil oversight agency

Minerals Management Service will be broken into three pieces under watchful eye of a former federal prosecutor

Published June 15, 2010 10:01PM (EDT)

President Barack Obama has selected a former federal prosecutor to take over the troubled government agency that oversees oil and gas development and has been accused of lax oversight.

The White House announced Tuesday that Michael R. Bromwich, a former assistant U.S. attorney and Justice Department inspector general, will lead a reorganization of the Minerals Management Service. The administration plans to break the MMS into three separate entities to eliminate conflicts of interest.

The announcement came hours ahead of Obama's prime-time speech to the nation on the Gulf oil spill as he sought to show leadership of the crisis on various fronts. The White House 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 in a statement. "That cannot and will not happen anymore."

Last month, Elizabeth Birnbaum stepped down after less than a year as director of the MMS. The 1,700-employee agency collects revenues from federal leases for offshore and onshore drilling, sells leases for drilling operations and enforces laws and regulations that apply to drilling.

Critics have long said the agency's roles conflict, leading to accusations of being too cozy with the oil and natural gas industry. The agency has been accused of inadequate review of BP's plans for deepwater drilling at the well now spewing into the Gulf.

According to a White House biography, Bromwich is a partner at law firm Fried Frank with expertise in organizational oversight. He served from 2002-2008 as the independent monitor for the District of Columbia's police department, ensuring compliance with civil rights and other laws.

Bromwich was the Justice Department's inspector general from 1994-1999 and before that was a federal prosecutor. Among other cases he was a courtroom lawyer in the trial of former White House aide Oliver North in the Iran-Contra scandal of illegal U.S. funding for Nicaraguan rebels.

By Erica Werner

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