WASHINGTON – WASHINGTON (AP) — The House Judiciary Committee on Wednesday subpoenaed BP claims documents, after its chairman said the company has not complied with requests to provide information on its payments.
The committee's voice vote showed bipartisan agreement for Chairman John Conyers' efforts to release claims information to the public.
The committee also voted, 16-11, to approve a bill eliminating limits on the amount of money that vessel owners had to pay for deaths and injuries. The bill would allow family members to collect payments for non-monetary damages such as pain and suffering.
Introduced by Conyers, D-Mich., the bill was sent to the full House, where it will be considered along with other legislation resulting from the massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.
Meanwhile, the new director of a government agency that oversees offshore drilling said he is creating an internal investigations team to help him improve the agency's performance.
In another matter, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer urged the White House to hold a summit with East Coast governors and local officials to ensure they are prepared if oil from the Gulf spill makes its way up the Atlantic coastline.
The new investigative team will look into allegations of misconduct and respond quickly to emerging problems, said Michael Bromwich, the new head of the Interior Department's Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement. The unit will report directly to him and will help ensure that oil and gas companies comply with laws and regulations, as well as investigate problems within the agency itself, Bromwich said Wednesday.
"My two-and-a-half days on the job has shown me that there is not that kind of investigative capability in my organization, and I think it's vital to create it," he told a Senate subcommittee.
Bromwich, who took over Monday at the newly created ocean energy bureau, established a similar investigative team at the Justice Department when he served as its inspector general.
A former federal prosecutor, Bromwich, 56, has been given a broad mandate to reorganize the drilling agency, which until Monday was known as the Minerals Management Service. The 1,700-employee agency, which regulates the oil and gas industry and collects billions in royalties from it, has been criticized for a cozy relationship with oil companies and lax oversight.
Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said Bromwich and other officials will make attacking corruption at the minerals agency a top priority.
One immediate problem Bromwich faces: The agency has just 62 inspectors essentially in charge of overseeing nearly 4,000 production wells in the Gulf of Mexico, Alaska and other areas.
"We need 250 additional inspectors to get the job done," Salazar told the Senate Interior Appropriations Subcommittee.
"You are asking for six (new inspectors) right now. It's a big jump," replied Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the panel's chairwoman.
Feinstein said she and other lawmakers would work to expand the number of inspectors at the agency.
The Obama administration plans to break up the drilling agency into three separate entities to eliminate conflicts of interest. President Barack Obama announced Bromwich's appointment last week and said he had directed him to implement far-reaching changes.
Bromwich said the new investigative unit will focus on three main roles: investigating allegations of misconduct; responding to high-priority issues; and implementing agency reorganization.
The changes approved by the Judiciary panel would permit recovery of non-monetary damages by the families of 11 workers who died, including pain and suffering and loss of care, comfort and companionship.
They also would repeal a law limiting that limits a vessel owner's liability death and injury to the value of a vessel and its cargo. Rig owner Transocean Ltd. has sought to use the law to limit its liability to the discounted salvage value of the rig, estimated at $27 million.
Associated Press writers Larry Margasak and Frederic J. Frommer contributed to this report.