Strict Rules for Regulators on Ties to Oil Industry

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"Measure is an effort to sever links between oil companies, regulators."

The Obama administration on Tuesday ordered federal offshore-oil regulators to recuse themselves from official actions involving companies that employ their family members or close friends.

The moves by the new director of the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement, Michael Bromwich, reflect a broader effort by Washington to sever the links between oil companies and federal regulators in the wake of the gulf spill.

But the rules highlight the challenge Mr. Bromwich faces in pulling apart the ties of friendship, family and culture in the Gulf Coast communities that depend on offshore drilling: Rig workers and agency employees in the Gulf Coast "have often known one another since childhood," according to a report published earlier this year by the Interior Department's inspector general.

In a memorandum sent to agency employees Monday, Mr. Bromwich laid out the new rules. Effective immediately, agency employees must report to their superiors "any incident or situation" in which either an industry official or an agency supervisor tries to "harass, coerce, pressure, improperly influence or direct" them in their official duties.

Legislation passed in July by the House would limit the ability of oil and gas regulators at the Interior Department to go to work for the industry, and require the department to certify each year that all employees who have regular contact with oil and gas companies operating on federal land are in full compliance with federal ethics laws. It is unclear whether the Senate will act on the legislation.

A report published by the Interior's inspector general in April faulted the department for lacking a "comprehensive scientific integrity policy" or any requirement to track scientific-misconduct allegations.

The proposal is subject to change based on comments the department receives from the public in the coming weeks.

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