The House Natural Resources Committee last Wednesday authorized its chairman to subpoena five Obama administration officials who are said to have direct knowledge or involvement in the drafting, editing or review of an Interior Department report that recommended a moratorium on deepwater drilling in the Gulf of Mexico (GOM) in May 2010 following the Macondo well blowout (see NGI, April 26, 2010).
The administration officials will be called to testify at a hearing to be held in September after Congress returns from its August recess. The Obama administration has been accused of altering recommendations in the report to justify the 2010 moratorium.
In July 2010 Rep. Doc Hastings (R-WA), who is now chairman of the committee, and another Republican on the House panel called on Interior Acting Inspector General (IG) Mary Kendall to open an investigation into allegations that the Obama administration altered peer-reviewed recommendations by experts in the report to justify the deepwater drilling moratorium (see NGI, July 26, 2010).
Seven members of the National Academy of Engineering (NAE) peer-reviewed the recommendations. The report allegedly made it appear as if the NAE members supported the administration's recommendation to impose the drilling moratorium. However, the peer reviewers contend they were not in fact asked to evaluate the moratorium.
Kendall's office concluded later in 2010 that the White House changed the Interior report to suggest that experts peer reviewed and supported the administration's decision to impose a blanket moratorium on drilling in the GOM (see NGI, Nov. 15, 2010). The Obama administration said the alteration was due to "last-minute editing," but Hastings' committee is trying to determine whether there was more involved.
Despite the finding of Kendall's office, Hastings said "troubling questions have arisen about the thoroughness and independence of the Acting IG's investigation, as well as the IG's unwillingness to fully cooperate with the committee's investigation." His remark came during a hearing last Thursday in which Kendall was called to testify.
In late March the committee subpoenaed Interior to obtain the allegedly altered documents; the House panel said the department's response was "extremely disappointing." This is the first time that the committee has subpoenaed Interior witnesses in its ongoing investigation.
"Taking steps to issue subpoenas is not the preferred option. In fact, I hope never to use this authority. We shouldn't have to compel answers from an administration that claims to be the most open and transparent in history," Hastings said.
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