Skip to Main Content
Project on Government Oversight




MMS Reforms Must Dig Deeper

June 17, 2010 


"Interior Secretary Ken Salazar's split of the Minerals Management Service (MMS) will only work if the agency also addresses its deep cultural problems," said Project On Government Oversight (POGO) Executive Director Danielle Brian.

Ms. Brian, in testimony submitted to the House Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources, warned that the well-intentioned structural reforms to remove the conflict of mission plaguing MMS will only succeed if Congress stops the revolving door problem and reduces the agency's dependence on industry.  This is the first congressional hearing to focus on the proposal to restructure MMS.

She cited the example of the National Ocean Industries Association's current and past presidents being former MMS Directors as a disturbing indicator of the cultural problems at the agency that fed into its recent failures.

"When the former Director of MMS joins a trade association whose explicit mission was to secure a 'favorable regulatory and economic environment,'" said Brian, "taxpayers have to question whose interests were actually being served when he was at MMS. It's unclear whether he was always ideologically opposed to the agency's mission."

President Barack Obama said Tuesday night that the problems at MMS ran much deeper than Secretary Salazar realized. In the testimony, POGO called for Interior to look beyond the usual suspects in industry and in MMS to head up the proposed new bureaus. The recent appointment of a former Inspector General, Michael R. Bromwich, fits the mold of POGO's recommendation and could provide the kind of critical outside perspective this agency needs. Bromwich's reputation as a tough investigator with experience cleaning up troubled organizations bodes well for his potential to reform the agency—and his lack of ties to the oil and gas industry could be a tremendous asset in changing the culture of coziness with industry. 

The hearing on the reorganization should provide him with a roadmap for implementing much-needed reforms.

"This agency has broken the public's trust, and must increase transparency to restore it," said Brian. "Interior's willingness to increase its openness in the wake of the Gulf disaster should be considered a real acid test as to how committed the Administration is to the kind of transparency measures that will help citizens hold the federal government and industry accountable."

"After covering MMS for more than 15 years, I can tell you from experience that these reforms are long overdue," Brian added.

Brian's testimony calls for a number of specific legislative revolving door reforms, including creating a publicly accessible revolving door database; reconsidering the pay and GS scale of inspectors to attract people with more expertise; and passing the Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act, H.R. 1507.

POGO Executive Director Danielle Brian testifies before the House Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources on Thursday, June 17. The hearing begins at 10 am, and will also feature testimony from BP whistleblower Ken Abbott.

Founded in 1981, the Project On Government Oversight (POGO) is a nonpartisan independent watchdog that champions good government reforms. POGO's investigations into corruption, misconduct, and conflicts of interest achieve a more effective, accountable, open, and ethical federal government.

# # #