FuelFix: Offshore drilling regulator launches new gig

April 2, 2012
oil rig


The former federal prosecutor who investigated allegations of mismanagement at the Houston crime lab and spearheaded an overhaul of government agencies that oversee offshore drilling now is putting out his shingle in Washington.

Michael Bromwich, the first director of the Interior Department’s new Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement, is set to launch a consulting agency on Monday with the goal of advising companies, police departments and government agencies on how to navigate crises and clean up their operations.

Specifically, the Bromwich Group is pitching four services: crisis management, strategic advising, offshore energy advising and work with law enforcement agencies.

The portfolio is a natural outgrowth of Bromwich’s resume. For years, he has been known as a skilled watchdog-for-hire with a reputation for moving swiftly to clean house at troubled organizations.

Most recently, his focus was the now-defunct Minerals Management Service. After oil began gushing out of BP’s failed Macondo well in the Gulf of Mexico two years ago, the Obama administration tasked Bromwich with revamping the agency.

Ultimately, Bromwich oversaw the division of the MMS into three separate agencies, with one focused on offshore safety and environmental issues, a second that collects revenue from offshore drilling and a third that deals with leasing the outer continental shelf for energy development.

Bromwich said that experience gives him solid footing to help companies weather crises of all kinds and advise them on other issues.

“We lived crisis management for 14 months,” Bromwich said. “It’s all well and good to get advice from advisers,” Bromwich added, but it’s different getting the counsel “from someone who’s been in the captain’s chair, who has to make those decisions himself and who has had to live with the near-term, short-term and long-term consequences of that.”

At the Interior Department, Bromwich drew criticism for pushing major changes in offshore drilling rules too quickly for companies to keep up. Industry leaders complained of an ever-changing regulatory landscape and what they said was government foot-dragging on issuing essential offshore drilling permits.

But in Houston, Bromwich drew praise for his sweeping, two-year probe of the Houston Police Department crime lab, after allegations of bad management, under-trained staff and inaccurate work surfaced in 2002.

The $5.3 million investigation culminated in a 332-page report that raised serious questions about the reliability of evidence used in nearly 200 criminal cases.

Bromwich also spent six years as the independent monitor for the Washington, D.C. Metropolitan Police Department, where he assembled a broad team of experts to keep an eye on the agency’s use of force, civil rights integrity, training and discipline. He had just started similar work in the Virgin Islands when he was tapped for the Interior Department offshore drilling job.

Ongoing investigations of a number of police departments nationwide could lead to similar monitorships, Bromwich said.

“There are a lot of agencies that need that kind of help,” he said.

Bromwich has pledged not to directly lobby the offshore drilling agencies that he helped create and has committed to imposing on himself “a lifetime ban on ever appearing before the agencies.”

But he still wants to stay involved in offshore energy issues, and he doesn’t rule out helping companies comply with new U.S. safety and environmental issues.

“I think there are a lot of people who still feel they are a little bit in the dark about what they have to do,” Bromwich said. “But it will not be promising people an inside track. It will not be promising people I can whisper in the ear of people (at the Interior Department).”

Bromwich is looking to help oil and gas companies work with other governments, “helping them to navigate through problems that exist with foreign regulators both on the environmental and the safety side.”

He also is pitching his resume to other countries with the goal of helping them set up programs to regulate offshore drilling.