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Salazar Taps BLM’s Abbey as Acting MMS Director

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar announced Friday that Bureau of Land Management Director Bob Abbey will serve as acting director of the Minerals Management Service, a move that comes a day after Elizabeth Birnbaum stepped down from the post amid criticism of the agency’s lax oversight of offshore drilling operations.

“Bob Abbey’s recent leadership on onshore energy reforms is exactly the kind of experience we need as we continue to reform and begin to restructure MMS. I appreciate Bob’s willingness to help tackle this crisis in the Gulf,” Salazar said in a statement.

Abbey will oversee the reorganization of the MMS into three separate agencies focused on enforcement, energy development and revenue collection. He will remain BLM director but turn over daily management duties to deputy director Mike Pool.

As the BP oil disaster has unfolded, the MMS has been under increased fire for what President Barack Obama on Thursday called “a scandalously close relationship” with the oil companies that it regulates.

“The oil industry’s cozy and sometimes corrupt relationship with government regulators meant little or no regulation at all,” Obama said at a press conference. He described the findings of a recent inspector general’s report on MMS activity prior to 2007 as “appalling” and said Salazar has been taking steps “to clean up that corruption.”

Birnbaum sought to distance herself from the controversy surrounding the MMS in her resignation letter. “I’m hopeful that the reforms that the secretary and the administration are undertaking will resolve the flaws in the current system that I inherited,” she said Thursday.

Salazar called Birnbaum “a good public servant” and said she resigned “on her own volition.”

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