The House Natural Resources Committee 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 Daily GPI, April 22, 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 Daily GPI, July 23, 2010).

In particular, the report noted that seven members of the National Academy of Engineering (NAE) peer-reviewed the recommendations. It 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 Daily GPI, Nov. 12, 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.

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.

The committee has asked Kendall to testify Thursday as to "whether the Obama administration intentionally misrepresented the views of engineering experts in order to justify the unilateral moratorium decision and the administration response to complaints by the engineering experts," and actions by the IG concerning the investigation.

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