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May 27 2010

Top MMS official quits

S. Elizabeth Birnbaum today submitted a letter of resignation as Director of the Minerals Management Service. She had been in the job less than a year. Her resignation came 10 days after that of Chris Oynes, an MMS veteran who on May 17nannounced his May 31 retirement as associate director for offshore energy and minerals management.

Though there was initial speculation that Ms. Birnbaum had been fired, her decision seems to have caught both Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and President Barack Obama by surprise. Also on the surprised list were the House Appropriations and Energy and Commerce Committees, before whom she was supposed to testify today at hearings on the Deepwater Horizon spill. Instead, David Hayes, Deputy Secretary, Department of the Interior, took her place.

Later in the day, Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar described Ms. Birnbaum as a "strong and effective person and leader."

"She helped break through tough issues including offshore renewable development and helped us take important steps to fix a broken system," he continued."She is a good public servant. She resigned today on her own terms and on her own volition. I thank her for her service and wish her the very best."

"I'm grateful to the President and to the Secretary for allowing me to serve this Administration and the country," said Ms. Birnbaum. "It's been a great privilege to serve as Director of the MMS. I have enormous admiration for the men and women of the MMS who do a difficult job under challenging circumstances. I'm hopeful that the reforms that the Secretary and the Administration are undertaking will resolve the flaws in the current system that I inherited."

It's unclear what role Ms. Birnbaum would have played following the implementation of the current three-way split of MMS into separate divisons. Under those reforms, the title of "Director of the Mineraals Management Service" disappears.


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