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Gulf oil spill: Head of Minerals Management Service quits [Updated]

May 27, 2010 |  8:43 am

Elizabeth Birnbaum has resigned her post as head of the U.S. Minerals Management Service, the beleaguered federal agency that oversees offshore oil drilling.

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar announced the resignation Thursday morning at a House subcommittee hearing on the oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico. 

Salazar said Birnbaum resigned on her own terms, and he praised her as a good public servant.

[Updated at 9:17 a.m.: "Liz Birnbaum has resigned as the director of the Minerals Management Service. She did it on her own terms, in her own volition," Salazar said.

"But I will say this about Liz Birnbaum. She is a strong and very effective person who, among other things, helped us break through the very difficult issues," the secretary said. "She helped us in moving forward in addressing what was a very broken system that we found when I came into the Department of Interior. And all I can really tell this committee is she is a good public servant."

In a statement, Rep. Doc Hastings of Washington, the ranking Republican of the House Natural Resources Committee said: “This is a clear admission that the Obama administration failed in their oversight responsibilities, but there are still well-documented failings at MMS that must be fixed.”]

The agency, which is part of the Interior Department, has been under fire from lawmakers and environmentalists who question whether poor oversight played a role in the leak, which has poured millions of gallons of oil into the gulf.

[Updated at 8:57 a.m.: Rep. Nick Rahall (D-W.Va.), chairman of House Natural Resources Committee said the departure of Birnbaum was a start.

“The departure of Elizabeth Birnbaum from MMS does not address the root problem. She has only been the public face of MMS for 11 months and the most serious allegations occurred prior to her tenure. This might on the surface be a good start but must not be the end game, he said.]

-- Michael Muskal in Los Angeles and Richard Simon in Washington

RELATED:

Federal report slams drilling inspectors

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