Liz Birnbaum is taking one for the team. Birnbaum wasn't the problem. Perhaps she wasn't enough of a solution, and that fact might justify her departure, but make no mistake - just like the economy, the problems at MMS and, more broadly, at DOI, were created by Bushies. The Obama Administration inherited yet another mess from the Bush/Cheney cabal but are taking the blame for these tragedies occurring "on their watch."
Update: Some folks think my use of the term "taking one for the team" means I thought she was fired. No, I fully realize that she resigned, but that doesn't mean she wasn't taking the fall for others. Besides, if you google "MMS Birnbaum" and scan the headlines, you'll see plenty of them using words like "ousted," "out," and even "fired," in spite of her resignation letter and Salazar's comment that she resigned voluntarily.
Here's some background on Birnbaum. She sounds like the environmentally-conscious person we'd hope President Obama would put in charge of such a sensitive position (source) (emphasis added):
From 1987 to 1991 Birnbaum was counsel for the Water Resources Program of the National Wildlife Federation. From 1991 to 1999, she was counsel to the House Committee on Natural Resources, after which she served as the special assistant to the Department of the Interior’s Office of the Solicitor, which oversees legal policy on natural resource issues. Birnbaum moved up to Associate Solicitor for Mineral Resources from 2000 to 2001, supervising and managing a staff of attorneys that worked to provide legal counsel, develop regulations and conduct litigation on minerals management for the Minerals Management Service, the Bureau of Land Management, and the Office of Surface Mining and Reclamation.
When George W. Bush took over the White house, Birnbaum left government and, from 2001 to 2007 she was the Vice President for Government Affairs and General Counsel for the non-profit conservation organization American Rivers. Birnbaum returned to government in 2007 as staff director for the Committee on House Administration, where she oversaw strategy development, budget management and staff activities for the committee that manages legislative branch agencies.
No, Birnbaum isn't responsible for the American Petroleum Institute writing the drilling safety rules. She had no part in safety inspectors allowing the oil industry they were supposed to be regulating to write their inspection reports for them.
The Bushies have been running things at DOI for some time. I gave some examples and linked to sources in comments here and here. Here's a new one I just found from reading this article - Randall Luthi:
More generally, the offshore drilling industry has tapped the government's expertise and connections. The National Ocean Industries Association, an offshore energy trade group, has plucked its last two presidents from the ranks of former MMS directors. In March, Randall Luthi, who was MMS director from July 2007 through January of last year, took over the industry post, replacing Tom Fry, who had been president of the group since December 2000.
Through a spokeswoman, Luthi declined an interview request. Fry did not return a message left through the National Marine Sanctuaries Foundation, where he serves as a trustee.
(Note that this article also mentions Sylvia Baca, who "went from BP to Interior... In 2001, Baca joined BP, where she worked in several senior management positions. Last June, Salazar brought her back to Interior, tapping her for the position of deputy assistant secretary for land and minerals management... Asked about her hiring at a House hearing Wednesday, Deputy Interior Secretary David Hayes said that Baca has recused herself from the oil spill because of her prior employment with BP.")
Why is this guy relevant, given that he left office in January 2009? Check this out:
Two key figures in the upcoming investigation and litigation phases in the case of the Deepwater Horizon explosion, which killed 11 workers on April 20 and subsequently spewed millions of gallons of crude oil into the Gulf of Mexico, are first cousins.
Randall Luthi is the former director of the agency that regulated BP and its Deepwater Horizon floating platform, and Jeffery Luthi, his cousin, is the clerk of the judicial panel that will render a crucial decision about where the lawsuits, which could total billions of dollars, will be tried.
In one corner are the commercial fishermen, shrimpers, and others affected by the BP oil spill. They want their cases litigated in Louisiana. In the other corner are BP, TransOcean, and Halliburton who want the cases heard in Texas courts, which are packed with Bush loyalists. More from the article:
Jeffery Luthi, 56, as clerk of the panel of the United States Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation (JPML), has significant influence over the final decision. He has already denied a motion by the plaintiffs to expedite the hearings on BP’s motion.
Cousin Randall Luthi will most likely be a key witness in the lawsuits and in the congressional hearings on whether MMS, the agency that regulated Deepwater Horizon and that he led under the Bush administration, improperly awarded safety certificates to BP and Transocean.
The former director of MMS, Randall Luthi, 54, is now president of National Ocean Industries Association (NOIA)...
As MMS director in September 2008, he defended the agency against charges by the DOI inspector general of a "culture of substance abuse, promiscuity, and ethical failure" existing inside MMS... All the abuses found by investigators occurred before Randall Luthi took office, but he spent the last four months of his tenure fighting off calls for his resignation.
Randall Luthi once worked for Dick Cheney and, according to his MMS bio, served on Cheney’s Energy Council, an organization composed of legislative representatives from energy-producing states and private energy-related industries that set the energy policies of the Bush administration.
BP, Halliburton (the company responsible for cementing the deepwater drill hole at the site), and Cameron International (the company that built the safety valves for the rig) have seats on board of NOIA, the trade organization led by Randall Luthi.
Jeffery Luthi handles the docket of the JPML, which has the authority to determine whether civil actions pending in two or more federal judicial districts should be transferred to a single federal district court for pretrial proceeding.
He is dealing with the BP motion to combine all the civil lawsuits involving Deepwater Horizon and the oil spill into a federal court in Houston, Texas...
Houston courts are notoriously tough on class-action lawsuits. There, three days after BP’s request, U.S. District Judge Keith Ellison issued an order suspending cases against Transocean, owner of the Deepwater Horizon rig, because the company filed a request to limit its liability in the lawsuits filed against it to $26.7 million.
Consolidating all the lawsuits into a federal court in Houston would give BP a huge home field advantage.
I heard part of an interview with Mike Papantonio on Stephanie Miller's show yesterday. In addition to pointing out that if the Federal gov't takes over the oil spill response, they own it, including all lawsuits, he also talked about the packing of the courts in Texas and how advantageous it would be for BP and the other defendants to have all cases heard in Texas. You can read more about this in "BP wants Houston judge with oil ties to hear spill cases."
I just found another name: Chris Oynes, who, in his role as the associate Minerals Management Service administrator for offshore drilling programs, gave TransOcean a Safety Award for Excellence just last year!
In short, whatever Liz Birnbaum did or didn't do, rightly or wrongly, during her tenure at MMS, it seems pretty clear that though we thought all the Bush and Cheney minions left gov't service when their benefactors left office, those damned Bush loyalists like Chris Oynes and Mike Saucier were the little men pulling the ropes behind the curtain. (For more information about the impact of loyal Bushies on current affairs, I strongly recommend reading " U.S. agency let oil industry write offshore drilling rules," "Bush-o-crats Burrow In," INFLUENCE GAME: Govt regulators hired by companies," and "Congress wants to know why MMS aborted tougher drilling ruiles.")