Oil Spill: Feds Won't Release BP Inspection Records

Updated 5:10 pm, 5/11/10

The federal agency that oversees oil rig safety and leasing of federal lands for drilling has refused to release safety inspection records for Deepwater Horizon in the wake of the explosion that killed 11 people.

A federal Mineral Management Service (MMS) spokesperson told CBS News there were 26 government inspections at Deepwater Horizon over the last five years - but there were no "incidents of non-compliance" leaving BP's rig with a spotless record.

When CBS News asked to see those inspection reports on April 29th it took the agency a week and a half to decide that the public records could not be released because they were "considered part of an ongoing investigation." An MMS spokesperson said in an email, "we need to scrutinize these documents very carefully to ensure they meet legal standards for release."

MMS has come under increasing fire, as critics say it "rubber-stamped" safety checks at BP's Deepwater Horizon rig.

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The agency also has a history of serious ethical lapses. In 2008, three reports by the Interior Department's Inspector General Earl Devaney noted that the agency had a "culture of ethical failure" where relationships with the oil and gas industry involved promiscuity and substance abuse by MMS employees. Devaney found that despite allegations, some of the employees under investigation were given "celebratory send-offs."

In his reports, Devaney also noted that the MMS employees seemed "calculatedly ignorant" of conflict of interest rules and documented two employees who on 135 occasions received gifts and gratuities from major oil and gas companies.

The ranking member of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) is now investigating the agency's role in overseeing oil rig safety. Issa sent a letter on May 3, 2010 asking the agency for the inspection reports among other documentation by May 7, 2010 but the agency has not complied with his request.

In addition, CBS News has learned that the Chairman of the Oversight and Government Reform Committee Edolphus Towns is launching his own investigation into MMS looking at the management, operations, and effectiveness of the agency. The chairman's office says Towns will look at concerns about MMS staffers leaving employment at MMS to go and work for oil and gas companies, conflicts of interest at the agency and in particular MMS's "apparent lack of oversight".

In addition to the House, Senate, Department of Homeland Security and MMS investigations of the oil spill, there is also an indication that the Justice Department is investigating.

One of the companies involved in Deepwater Horizon, Transocean, has filed updated information with the SEC indicating the Department of Justice has asked the company to preserve information.

Today the White House announced MMS would be divided into two separate agencies, "one to inspect oil rigs and enforce safety, the other to oversee leases royalties," according to a tweet from White House press secretary Robert Gibbs.