Watching Government: Keeping BOEM, BSEE separate

Oct. 23, 2017
Let's not mince words: Michael R. Bromwich thinks recombining the US Bureau of Ocean Energy Management and US Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement is a terrible idea. It's not simply because one of his last jobs at the Department of the Interior in 2011 was to divide the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation, and Enforcement.

Let's not mince words: Michael R. Bromwich thinks recombining the US Bureau of Ocean Energy Management and US Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement is a terrible idea. It's not simply because one of his last jobs at the Department of the Interior in 2011 was to divide the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation, and Enforcement.

"As you probably know, this is an idea that is currently under serious consideration at DOI. I think such a recombination is not just a profoundly bad idea that would be unnecessarily disruptive for the agencies and the industry and for which no clear case has been made, but it is also a dangerous idea that would significantly raise the risk of a catastrophic offshore accident," Bromwich told a US House Natural Resources subcommittee on Oct. 11.

Bromwich's testimony before the Energy and Minerals Subcommittee at a hearing about proposed federal offshore oil and gas policy reforms followed weeks of rumors that the Trump administration is thinking of recombining BOEM and BSEE to make them more efficient and save money.

The agencies are working well, Bromwhich said. They function separately and independently, with unique missions. They have strong relationships with each other that keep them working effectively. Each agency's management can focus on its mission and performance, and advocate for its employees and resources. The employees have clearer career paths and opportunities for professional development.

"The truth is I am puzzled by the impetus to undo the reorganization that was so broadly supported a few short years ago," Bromwich said. "I am unaware of any pressure to do so from industry or from any other stakeholder. If there is any such pressure, and it is based on evidence of structural problems with the reorganization, let's hear what it is and let's fix the problems."

A destructive bias

Restructuring the former US Minerals Management Service occurred after then-US Interior Sec. Ken Salazar determined in 2009 that its authority and responsibilities created conflicts that made it unworkable and ineffective. "I learned most specifically about how the bias toward developing offshore resources and generating revenue had stunted the development of the agency's regulatory and enforcement capabilities," Bromwich said.

Interior officials refused to be rushed because they realized reorganizations can be so disruptive, Bromwich told the subcommittee. "The [Trump] administration has certainly not made the case for recombining BOEM and BSEE and I don't believe there is a convincing case to be made. Because the discussions on this issue have so far taken place behind closed doors, there has been no opportunity for informed debate on the issue. This is the opposite of transparency," he said.