President Obama taps Michael Bromwich as watchdog for offshore oil drilling

A tanker positioned in the Gulf of Mexico, collecting oil from the blown out well, may have been struck by lightning Tuesday. There was a small fire aboard the tanker, which was quickly put out.
By Juliet Eilperin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, June 16, 2010

The man appointed Tuesday by President Obama to oversee offshore oil drilling has no experience with oil and gas issues, but he has a reputation for cleaning up embattled organizations.

Michael Bromwich will need those skills as the new director of the Minerals Management Service, an agency that has come under fire in recent years for failing to adequately monitor offshore oil and gas development.

The agency, part of the Interior Department, has been the subject of two scathing inspector general's reports in the past two years, documenting how MMS officials have improperly accepted gifts from officials they regulate and have even engaged in illegal drug use and sexual activities with them.

Bromwich's résumé boasts a long list of watchdog positions.

Carl Danburg, commissioner of Delaware's Department of Corrections, brought him in after the Justice Department sued over the state of inmates' medical care. With Bromwich's help, the department brought in health-care experts to analyze prison conditions and provide suggestions on how to improve them. Under an agreement reached in 2007, Delaware is now pouring millions of dollars into the task.

"He has an unusual, an uncanny ability to identify the problem areas within an agency and a department and identify the potential solutions for them," Danburg said in an interview Tuesday.

Bromwich also served for five years as an inspector general for the Justice Department under President Bill Clinton, as the District's independent monitor on the issue of excessive force within the Metropolitan Police Department, and as the independent investigator for the Houston Police Department's crime lab.

And he served as an associate counsel in the Iran-contra investigation in the late 1980s.

"Over the last decade, this agency has become emblematic of a failed philosophy that views all regulation with hostility," Obama said Tuesday night from the Oval Office, adding that "the pace of reform was just too slow."

Bromwich's assignment, Obama said, "is to build an organization that acts as the oil industry's watchdog -- not its partner."

The position requires no Senate confirmation.

The April 20 Deepwater Horizon explosion has only intensified scrutiny of MMS. On May 27 its director, Elizabeth Birnbaum, stepped down after less than a year on the job, under pressure from Interior Secretary Ken Salazar.

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