At the heart of the BP oil disaster is a culture of permissiveness at the Minerals Management Service, the agency supposed to regulate offshore drilling. The MMS endured one of the most embarrassing investigations of a federal agency in recent history under the Bush Administration, when the Inspector General for the Department of the Interior uncovered multiple sex and drug scandals at the agency. So it’s not like we need another investigation to know that the MMS was in bed with the corporate interests they’re supposed to regulate. And the White House has begun to respond to this by proposing to separate the royalty collection arm of the MMS from the regulatory arm.
However, in the BP disaster we have seen a pattern from MMS of outright ignoring their responsibilities. So it’s worth probing again the failures at the agency. And the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform plans to do just that. Ed Towns, the chairman of the committee, released the statement late Friday:
“The inadequacy of BP’s and Transocean’s emergency response, and reports that BP may have failed to adopt adequate ‘blowout’ measures are deeply troubling and suggest problems with MMS’s approach to offshore drilling,” said Chairman Towns. “We need to understand if proper safeguards were in place before the Deepwater Horizon spill occurred, and if not, we need to know why.”
In a letter to the Department of the Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, the chairman requested information on management, operations and effectiveness of MMS, including matters relating to the Deepwater Horizon incident. Additionally, the chairman is interested in “revolving door” issues, conflicts of interest within MMS and MMS’s apparent lack of oversight of offshore oil rigs.
This is exactly what we need from the Oversight Committee. They should not take a kid gloves approach to an executive branch agency just because the Congressional majority shares the same party as the President. Incompetence has no Republican or Democratic face, and the responsibility ought to be to preserving public safety and spending taxpayer money wisely, not political deference.
The MMS has reportedly allowed the oil industry to self-police for many years, essentially handing their jobs over to self-interested executives. Both the Oversight Committee and the internal watchdog at Interior have basically called MMS a failure. The more pressure that can be put on this agency, the better chance at a total overhaul, and new restrictions on the companies who want to take our natural resources for profit.