Twisting in the wind

On several occasions in my life, I’ve been tasked to enforce various rules and regulations.  It isn’t always particularly fun, but it was a necessary aspect of the job.  The times when it was the most miserable aspect was when you didn’t get any backing from your superiors on it.    There is nothing like the experience of being told “this is important” and “we need to get this under control,” and then to have your superiors chew you out for actually doing it.

Why would I mention this?  Today, a report was issued by a Department of the Interior review board looking into the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement (BOEMRE), formerly the Minerals Management Service, oversight of offshore drilling.  It’s pretty damning.

Specifically, inspectors (a) are part of a program structure that is ineffective in facilitating the elevation of issues or concerns up the management chain; (b) begin and continue their jobs with no standardized training, testing, or certification; (c) operate with minimal resources; and (d) sometimes operate without strong management support.

Ineffective is an understatement.  What we’re seeing here is, as Dan Froomkin points out, is the “regulatory capture” of the agency by the oil industry.   Besides not getting adequate training, when the inspectors did try to do their jobs, they were often overridden by their own supervisors.   They were trying to work with few resources, no support from above, and no ability to really do anything.  That’s a recipe for disaster, and we have seen the results of that – a disaster.

What good news there is, is that the DOI is implementing changes recommended in the report.  The sad part?  It shouldn’t have happened in the first place.  It’ll be a lot of work to rebuild this into something that does the job, and get past the years of “don’t enforce this” that many inspectors have had to live with.  There will be doubts as to whether their supervisors are serious about it, or whether they’re going to be left twisting in the wind – again.


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