The federal agency overseeing offshore drilling activities announced a new policy Tuesday aimed at preventing undue influence by the oil and natural gas industry on agency employees and averting conflicts of interest.

"District employees must perform their duties based solely on the facts and information they collect or that are presented to them...without any coercion or improper influence from any industry personnel," wrote Michael R. Bromwich, director of the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement (BOEM), successor to the Minerals Management Service, in a memo to all BOEM district employees.

"District employees must immediately report any situation or incident where industry personnel attempt to bribe, harass, coerce or improperly pressure or influence a district employee with respect to the performance of the employee's official duties," he said.

However, "a mere request by industry personnel that a district employee not issue an INC [incident of noncompliance] does not, by itself, constitute interference for the purposes of this policy, so long as the request is based on the facts and circumstances that are giving rise to the INC. On the other hand, repeated requests not to issue INCs and/or additional conduct accompanying any individual request not to issue an INC may amount to interference," Bromwich wrote.

District employees were told to report any interference immediately to their deputy regional supervisor, who is charged with notifying the investigations and review unit within 24 hours.

In addition, the new BOEM policy requires every district employee to notify his or her supervisor about any conflicts of interest, such as a family member or close friend being employed by a designated operator, contract operator or drilling contractor. "District employees must take appropriate steps to avoid even the appearance of a conflict of interest or loss of impartiality with respect to the performance of his or her official duties," Bromwich said.

It also imposes restrictions on BOEM employees who were formerly employed by drilling-related companies. "District employees are not allowed to perform any official duties that related to a former employer who is a designated operator, contract operator or drilling contractor for a period of two years from the date the district employee was last employed by that employer," he said.

©Copyright 2010 Intelligence Press Inc. All rights reserved. The preceding news report may not be republished or redistributed, in whole or in part, in any form, without prior written consent of Intelligence Press, Inc.