MMS' Elizabeth Birnbaum Fired: Oversaw Oil Drilling in Gulf

| by Mark Berman Opposing Views

Minerals Management Service Director Elizabeth Birnbaum has been fired, according to two CNN sources, following a report detailing widespread corruption at the agency.

MMS workers are responsible for, among other things, overseeing oil drilling in the Gulf of Mexico. But the report by the Interior Department's inspector general revealed that federal inspectors accepted gifts from the companies they were supposed to be monitoring. In one instance, an inspector was negotiating for a job with a company while inspecting its rigs.

The period covered by the report was prior to the April explosion that sank the oil rig Deepwater Horizon, resulting in the massive oil spill.

MMS is part of the Interior Department. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar recently called the allegations of MMS corruption "evidence of the cozy relationship between some elements of [the agency] and the oil and gas industry." He pledged to follow through with the Interior Department inspector general's recommendations, "including taking any and all appropriate personnel actions including termination, discipline and referrals of any wrongdoing for criminal prosecution."

However, during testimony on Thursday before a House subcommittee, Salazar said Birnbaum resigned "on her own terms and own volition," calling her "a good public servant."

As part of the crackdown on MMS, Sen. Bill Nelson introduced legislation Wednesday requiring federal oil industry regulators to wait at least two years after leaving government service before going to work for companies they helped regulate. It would also bar regulators from accepting gifts from oil companies.