After BP Oil Spill, Offshore Regulator Institutes Ethics PolicySep 1, 2010 | Parker Waichman LLP
In the wake of the BP oil spill, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management is imposing its first-ever ethics policy. The Bureau of Ocean Management was formed over the summer, after the functions of the scandal-plagued Minerals Management Service (MMS) were divided. The Bureau is charged with overseeing offshore drilling operations.
According to the Associated Press, Bureau employees must now notify a supervisor about any potential conflict of interest and step aside when inspections or other official duties involve a company that employs a family member or close personal friend. Furthermore, inspectors who join the agency from the oil industry cannot perform inspections or other work involving their former employers for two years.
Employees must also now report any incident in which contacts “attempt to bribe, harass, coerce, or improperly pressure or influence’’ a federal regulator, the Associated Press said. And they must avoid even the appearance of a conflict and report activities that “raise a question regarding his or her impartiality.”
The new policy becomes effective immediately, the Associated Press said.
The former MMS had a joint mission that critics charged created conflicts of interest. On one hand, it was supposed to be an industry watchdog. But on the other, the agency was also charged with promoting energy independence and generating government revenue from drilling on government lands. What’s more, half of the MMS budget came from the oil industry in the form of fees and rental receipts.
While the BP oil spill helped shine a light on the incompetence of the MMS, even before the Deepwater Horizon oil rig disaster, the agency was mired in scandal. As we reported previously, the inspector general for the Interior Department issued a report in May that found that staff at an MMS office in Louisiana accepted tickets to sports events, lunches and other gifts from oil and gas companies. According to the report, individuals involved in the fraternizing and gift exchange — both government and industry — often knew one another since childhood. In a letter to Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, the inspector general said their relationships took precedence over their jobs.
According to the Associated Press, a similar report issued in 2008 found that employees at an MMS office in Colorado had engaged in sexual relationships with energy company executives and accepting gifts from them.