From Project On Government Oversight (POGO)

Sep 01, 2010

BOEMRE Ethics Memo: What Needs to Happen Next

Yesterday the Director of the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement (BOEM), Michael Bromwich, released an unprecedented ethics policy memo to all federal employees overseeing offshore drilling. The memo expands conflict-of-interest policies beyond financial concerns to include personal relationships, and mandates employees to request recusals from inspections or other official duties relating to operators or contractors that employ a district employee’s family member or personal friend.

Additionally, the memo prohibits agency employees from performing any official duties related to a former employer for two years from the date they were last employed by that employer, mirroring legislation passed by the House and approved by the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

Director Bromwich’s memo also directly addresses—though may not resolve—a concern POGO Executive Director Danielle Brian raised in testimony before House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform last month: that inspectors feel pressured not to issue Incidents of Noncompliance (INCs) against companies to stop production on facilities inspectors deem to be unsafe or otherwise not in compliance with safety requirements. Bromwich’s memo does require employees to report when industry pressures them, but the pressures facing many inspectors are more complex, and definitely come from a perception that their supervisors within the agency do not want them to issue INCs. In fact, some inspectors POGO has talked to said they felt more likely to get in trouble for issuing an INC than for failing to do so.

As unprecedented as this memo is, it is only the beginning of greater reforms that need to happen. Bromwich’s memo only applies to offshore regulators, which means it doesn’t capture the Office of Natural Resources Revenue or other BOEM employees that don’t work offshore. More explicitly, it means this policy wouldn’t capture the Greg Smiths, Milton Dials, or Jimmy Mayberrys that have been found to have significant conflicts of interest.

But just as important, these problems are also prevalent for onshore regulators. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and Bureau of Land Management (BLM) Director Bob Abbey should implement similar policies for onshore regulators—policies with teeth, since Bromwich’s memo lacks penalties for violating these laudable policies. We are concerned that Director Bromwich’s Investigations and Review Unit (IRU) may not have the necessary independence and clearly defined rules necessary to ensure that it can effectively root out problems. We hope that there will be sufficient cooperation between the IRU and the Inspector General, as well as referrals to the Department of Justice when needed. We look forward to seeing how BLM Director Bob Abbey will improve ethics standards at BLM, and would urge him to incorporate similarly aggressive policies.

— Mandy Smithberger

Link to original:  http://pogoblog.typepad.com/pogo/2010/09/boemre-ethics-memo-what-needs-to-happen-next.html

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