Correction to This Article
An earlier version of this article incorrectly attributed to Interior Secretary Ken Salazar several statements made by another official, Michael Bromwich, who testified with Salazar Thursday at a hearing before a House committee.

Salazar pledges to limit Interior's revolving door

As BP works to control the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, local wildlife struggle for survival.
By Kimberly Kindy
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, July 23, 2010

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar told lawmakers Thursday that he will use his regulatory authority to impose strict new rules to remedy the revolving-door problems in his department.

Salazar, who has supported legislative efforts to address what he acknowledges is a concern, offered few details about what rules he might exact but told members of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform that he will report back.

Michael Bromwich, the newly appointed head of the Interior agency that regulates oil drilling, assured the committee that he will never work for the oil industry.

"You'll never see me in this position," Bromwich said. "I'll say right now that I'll impose a lifetime ban on contacts with the agency, and I hope that sets an example for other people in the agency and other people throughout government."

His statement came after Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.) asked about a Washington Post article that reported that dozens of former Interior officials had crossed over into the oil industry and that three out of four industry lobbyists had once worked for the federal government.

The rate is more than double the norm in Washington, where industries recruit about 30 percent of their lobbyists from the government, according to data from the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics. With more than 600 registered lobbyists, the industry has among the biggest and most powerful contingents in Washington, The Post reported.

The hearing focused on revolving-door moves made by two former directors of the Minerals Management Service, the recently renamed agency within Interior that is responsible for regulating the industry.

The latest of these moves came when Randall Luthi left his $160,000 government job just 14 months before he became president of the National Ocean Industries Association, an oil industry trade group. He began his new position weeks before the Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded in the Gulf of Mexico. The association paid his predecessor, former MMS director Tom Fry, more than $580,000 annually.

"The revolving door issue is one that has troubled us and one that we are working on," Salazar said. "It is my personal view that if you have been an MMS director that you ought not to go out and then work with the industry."

Both the House and Senate have introduced bills that would prevent Interior employees who leave to work for the oil industry from having direct professional contact with the department for two years. The Senate measure would also prevent Interior employees from taking jobs with companies they deal with as regulators until a year after they leave government service, and the House calls for a two-year ban that would carry civil and criminal penalties for violators.

At the hearing, Salazar also said the structure of MMS fueled revolving-door problems and sometimes corrupt and unethical behavior.

The agency used to be responsible for regulating the industry and also collecting oil royalty revenue. Salazar has set up the Office of Annual Resources Revenue to collect that money separately.

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