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Interior secretary swears-in leader of new agency to oversee offshore drilling

WASHINGTON (AP) — A former federal prosecutor took over Monday as director of a new government agency that oversees offshore drilling and other oil and gas development.

Michael R. Bromwich, 56, a former assistant U.S. attorney and Justice Department inspector general, will lead a reorganization of the agency formerly known as the Minerals Management Service.

Bromwich's arrival as head of the 1,700-employee agency came as Interior Secretary Ken Salazar signed an order renaming the agency the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement. The agency, which both regulates the oil and gas industry and collects billions in royalties from it, will be known as the Bureau of Ocean Energy or BOE for short, Salazar said.

Under its previous name, the drilling agency was criticized for a cozy relationship with oil companies and lax oversight.

The Obama administration plans to break up the agency into three separate entities to eliminate conflicts of interest. President Barack Obama announced Bromwich's appointment last week and said Bromwich would have a mandate to implement far-reaching changes and the resources to do it.

"For a decade or more, the cozy relationship between the oil companies and the federal agency was allowed to go unchecked," Obama said. "That cannot and will not happen anymore."

The agency's former director, Elizabeth Birnbaum, stepped down under pressure last month after less than a year in office. Both Birnbaum and Bromwich are graduates of Harvard Law School. In a departure from previous administrations, neither worked in the oil and gas industry before their appointments as head of the oversight agency.

The agency, an arm of the Interior Department, collects revenues from federal leases for offshore and onshore drilling, sells leases for drilling operations and enforces laws and regulations that apply to drilling.

The drilling agency has come under repeated fire for inadequate review of oil giant BP's plans for deep-water drilling at the well now spewing millions of gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico.

Salazar said Bromwich has a strong track record of reforming the way organizations work, both in the public and private sectors. Bromwich was inspector general at the Justice Department from 1994-1999 and served from 2002-2008 as the independent monitor for the District of Columbia's police department, ensuring compliance with civil rights and other laws. He also conducted special investigations into allegations of incompetence and misconduct at the FBI Laboratory and investigated the FBI's conduct in the Aldrich Ames spy case.

Bromwich "will be a key part of our team as we continue to change the way the Department of the Interior does business ... and lead the reforms that will raise the bar for offshore oil and gas operations," Salazar said.

In a related development, Salazar and Bromwich met Monday with a group of scientists who have complained that their views were improperly used to justify a federal moratorium on deep-water drilling.

The scientists, who had consulted with Salazar on a May 27 report on drilling safety, said the Interior Department falsely implied that they had agreed to a "blanket moratorium" that they actually opposed. The scientists said the drilling moratorium went too far and warned that it may have a lasting impact on the nation's economy.

A spokeswoman for Salazar said the May 27 report was not intended to imply that all experts from the National Academy of Engineering had agreed to the moratorium.

"By listing the members of the NAE that peer-reviewed the 22 safety recommendations contained in the report, we didn't mean to imply that they also agreed with the moratorium on deep-water drilling," said spokeswoman Kendra Barkoff. "We acknowledge that they were not asked to review or comment on the proposed moratorium and that they peer-reviewed the report on a technical basis."

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