As the massive oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico continues to gush virtually unabated, Senior White House Correspondent Major Garrett has learned that President Obama will create a presidential commission to investigate what caused it.
It's not clear when Mr. Obama will lay pen to paper to formally establish the commission or its members, but an administration official says the earliest would be Tuesday.
The announcement comes on the same day that a top government official who oversees oil and gas leases in federal waters announced his intention to resign at the end of the month. Associate Director of the Offshore Energy and Minerals Management Program, Chris Oynes, "has been actively involved in how MMS conducts its resource projections and its environmental reviews, and the operational safeguards it imposes," according to the MMS website.
Oynes' is the first resignation since MMS has come under fire for being too cozy with oil companies following the BP oil spill; with some accusing the department of forgoing the required environmental permits in approving the very drilling platform that exploded on April 20.
Oynes, who has held his current position since 2007, informed his staff via email that he will retire on May 31. Ironically, his own MMS webpage touts his prolific leasing abilities, "During his tenure in the GOM, [Oynes] conducted 30 lease sales and oversaw a 50 percent rise in oil production."
The MMS, a part of the Interior Department, is tasked to with overseeing oil and gas lease requests in federal waters, collecting royalties and ensuring compliance with environmental standards. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar recently announced his intention to split MMS in two; one department would be in charge of overseeing leases and the other would enforce regulations.
Though the infamous BP spill has punctuated the connection between government and big oil; a fact that is being reinforced by the increasing estimates of the amount of oil spilled; criticism of MMS operations is nothing new.
Congressman Darrell Issa (R-CA), Ranking Member of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, proposed making MMS an independent agency last year.
Oynes' resignation is only a beginning, Issa says, "For more than a decade spanning three Administrations, MMS has been a corrupt agency with an extensive history of mismanagement. This wasn't the doing of one, single person, but rather the culmination of a bureaucratic breakdown."
The Obama White House has been grappling with both the reality of the disaster and the politics surrounding the federal response since the incident first occurred. Critics have accused the White House of being slow on the uptake. The White House has vigorously defended its response to the crisis, while at the same time admitting some of the governmental misdeeds that may have led to it have come under its watch.
"I think the President was clear that there have been failings at a government level and certainly those include us," White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said at his briefing Monday.
"But my guess is [the press] did some stories in the previous decade on what was going on at MMS, which is what caused Secretary Salazar, when he came in, to begin reforming that."
The Interior Secretary will testify on Capitol Hill tomorrow.