The House Natural Resources Committee is scheduled to meet Wednesday to consider whether to subpoena five Interior Department officials to appear before the panel to respond to questions about the Obama administration’s actions leading up to a moratorium on drilling in the Gulf of Mexico (GOM) in May 2010.

The five Interior officials had been invited to testify at an oversight hearing last Wednesday, but they refused to confirm their attendance 20 hours prior to the hearing, according to the committee. The hearing was called to address the six-month moratorium in the GOM, as well as a report that was allegedly altered by the Obama administration to suggest that experts from the National Academy of Engineering had endorsed the moratorium on deepwater drilling when in fact they had not (see Daily GPI, March 30).

In late March, the committee subpoenaed Interior to obtain the allegedly altered documents, but the House panel said the department’s response was “extremely disappointing given the costly toll the Obama administration’s drilling moratorium imposed on thousands of workers and American energy production.”

Committee Chairman Doc Hastings (R-WA) said, “taking the step to issue subpoenas for witnesses to appear before the committee is not the preferred option, but if that is the only way to acquire answers and accountability of the administration, we’re left with no other choice. The department has chosen this path by refusing to provide documents, refusing on-the-record interviews and refusing to accept invitations to testify.”

In July 2010 Hastings and another Republican on the House committee 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).

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.

On Thursday the committee will hold an oversight hearing to explore the “independence and effectiveness” of the IG’s office, and whether the administration “intentionally misrepresented the views of engineering experts.”

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