Birnbaum resigns as MMS director

Nick Snow
OGJ Washington Editor

WASHINGTON, DC, May 27 -- One day after testifying before a US House Committee about problems within the agency, US Minerals Management Service Director S. Elizabeth Birnbaum resigned on May 27. US Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said that Birnbaum left “on her own terms and on her own volition.”

Her resignation came 2 days after the US Department of the Interior’s inspector general’s office issued a report describing ethics lapses in 2000-08 at MMS’s district office in Lake Charles, La. Salazar said during a May 26 House Natural Resource Committee hearing on the Gulf of Mexico crude oil spill that the behavior, which occurred before he became secretary and Birnbaum became MMS director, was scandalous and reprehensible.

“My view is that it was part of the culture of MMS, and of the prior administration where the industry was running the show,” Salazar said. “We have worked very hard at changing the relationship to one that is arm’s length between the regulator and regulated entity.”

Salazar also has announced that MMS would be reorganized into two separate agencies and its revenue collection responsibilities moved to another part of DOI.

He praised Birnbaum in his May 27 statement on her resignation as a “strong and effective person [who] helped break through tough issues including offshore renewable development and helped us take important steps to fix a broken system.” When he announced her appointment, Salazar mentioned that Birnbaum had no oil and gas industry connections.

In a statement announcing her resignation, Birnbaum praised MMS employees “who do a difficult job under challenging circumstance” and said she hoped the reforms Salazar initiated “will resolve the flaws in the current system that I inherited.”

Contact Nick Snow at nicks@pennwell.com.

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