Interior Dept. drilling agency seeks whistleblower tips on ethics problems

The Interior Department’s offshore drilling agency has launched an online and telephone hotline for reporting ethics problems, a move that follows the recent creation of a new investigative unit within the long-troubled agency.

Bureau of Ocean Energy Management Director Michael Bromwich on Wednesday called the unit and new hotline “critical steps in our work to reform this agency.”

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“We will take reported actions of misconduct, either within BOEM or by industry, very seriously and will investigate these allegations promptly and aggressively,” he said in a statement.

The bureau is the successor agency to the Minerals Management Service, plagued by major ethics problems — such as regulators partying with oil industry personnel and taking gifts — documented by Interior’s inspector general in several reports.

Critics of the agency say the close ties between regulators and the industry allowed drilling operations to escape careful scrutiny. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar renamed and overhauled MMS in the wake of the BP oil spill.

Bromwich, a former Justice Department official, announced creation of the Investigations and Review Unit in June. “The IRU will evaluate all information submitted through the hotline and will, where appropriate, investigate allegations of misconduct,” the bureau announced Wednesday.

The specifics from the agency: “Allegations of misconduct or unethical behavior involving BOEM personnel or persons who interact with BOEM personnel can be reported online by going to www.boemre.gov/iru or by calling 877-440-0173 or 202-208-5646.”