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Troubled agency gets acting director

By the CNN Wire Staff
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: Acting director takes over at troubled agency
  • The Minerals Management Services oversees offshore oil drilling
  • Agency has been criticized for corruption and industry ties
  • Previous director left amid controversy

(CNN) -- An acting director was settling into the top job Saturday at the troubled Minerals Management Service, which is involved in federal oversight of offshore oil drilling.

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said Bob Abbey would become acting director even as he retains his role as director of the federal Bureau of Land Management.

The previous director, Elizabeth Birnbaum, resigned Thursday, Salazar said. Two sources told CNN that she was fired.

"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" the service, Salazar said in a statement. "I appreciate Bob's willingness to help tackle this crisis in the Gulf."

Abbey will begin to manage the re-organization of the Minerals and Management Service into three separate agencies. Salazar has unveiled plans to divide the agency's energy development, enforcement and revenue collection divisions, saying they have "conflicting missions."

A recent federal report highlighted what many observers have characterized as widespread corruption at the agency.

The Interior Department's inspector general released the report. It revealed that federal inspectors overseeing oil drilling in the Gulf of Mexico accepted meals and tickets to sporting events from companies they monitored.

Salazar recently called the allegations of MMS corruption "evidence of the cozy relationship between some elements of [the agency] and the oil and gas industry."

He pledged to follow through with the Interior Department inspector general's recommendations, "including taking any and all appropriate personnel actions including termination, discipline and referrals of any wrongdoing for criminal prosecution."

The Minerals Management Service collected nearly $10 billion in royalties from the energy and mining industries in 2009.

 
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