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Drilling agency imposes conflict-of-interest policy

WASHINGTON — Scandalized by federal regulators who had sex with oil company executives and negotiated with them for jobs, the agency that oversees offshore drilling is imposing a first-ever ethics policy that bars inspectors from dealing with a company that employs a family member or personal friend.

Michael Bromwich, head of the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, said the new policy should help restore credibility to his beleaguered agency, which was widely criticized under its former name — the Minerals Management Service — for being too close with oil and gas companies.

President Barack Obama and Interior Secretary Ken Salazar have pledged to end the agency's "cozy relationship" with industry and slow the revolving door between government and the energy industry.

Under the new policy, agency employees must notify a supervisor about any potential conflict of interest and step aside when inspections or other official duties involve a company that employs a family member or close friend.

Inspectors who join the agency from the oil industry cannot perform inspections or other work involving their former employers for two years. The new policy, which takes effect immediately, comes after a series of jaw-dropping reports documenting the close relationship between agency workers and energy company representatives.

In May, the Interior Department's acting inspector general found that MMS employees in the Lake Charles, La., office accepted meals, football tickets, hunting trips and other gifts from the oil and gas companies they were regulating.

A separate 2008 inspector general report singled out workers in the agency's Lakewood, Colo., office for having sexual relationships with energy company executives and accepting gifts from them.

Rallies to protest drilling curbs

Thousands of oil and gas industry supporters are set to rally in three Texas cities today to protest the administration's deep-water drilling moratorium and congressional proposals that they say would cost jobs.

The American Petroleum Institute organized the gatherings in Houston, Port Arthur and Corpus Christi to galvanize opposition to lawmakers' plans to get rid of industry tax breaks and impose unlimited liability for oil spills. They also are taking aim at the administration's ban on deep-water drilling, which was first imposed in May in the wake of the blowout at BP's Macondo well and is set to last until Nov. 30.

Similar rallies are planned over the next two weeks in Ohio, Illinois, New Mexico and Colorado.

Hearst Newspapers

Drilling agency imposes conflict-of-interest policy 08/31/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, August 31, 2010 9:41pm]
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