Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Texas), a former Texas appellate court chief justice, questioned Liz Birnbaum at her final hearing, the day before her firing, um, resignation as director of the Minerals Management Service (MMS).
Gohmert raises the question of unionization of offshore inspectors at the MMS and the continuation of that policy at an agency rife with corruption.
(The terms "union" and "government" don’t exactly gel well together in a results-oriented circumstance where lives are at stake — along the lines of the major concerns over unionizing the TSA governing airport security.)
“The only unionized branch of MMS is the offshore inspectors,” Gohmert stated at the hearing. “Will the new Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement be unionized?”
Birnbaum didn’t know.
It turns out the check and balance on these union offshore inspectors is that they’re sent out in pairs. And the last pair sent to inspect the Deepwater Horizon platform before the explosion was a father and son team.
REP. LOUIE GOHMERT (R-TEXAS): When the offshore inspectors go out and inspect these rigs you said they don’t actually test, they just observe. But don’t they require testing to be done in their presence?
FORMER MMS DIRECTOR LIZ BIRNBAUM: There is some testing that is done in the presence of MMS inspectors, but we require testing on a regular basis, on a weekly basis, on a daily basis…
GOHMERT: They have the power to require testing be done in their presence?
BIRNBAUM: Yes they do.
GOHMERT: Is there some kind of system among the offshore inspectors that allows them to review what other offshore inspectors have done just to make sure that someone hasn’t missed something? To use the term you were using, to make sure someone with fresh eyes has seen what other offshore inspectors have done to make sure that we’re doing the right things?
BIRNBAUM: The first thing is in general MMS inspectors go out in teams of two, not alone, so that we do have more than one set of eyes looking at things. Beyond that we rotate inspectors, it’s not always the same inspectors at the same rig or the same platform and they always have access to the previous inspectors’ reports as well.
GOHMERT: So the duplicity of having two offshore inspectors at the same time go out and inspect a rig helps provide that check and balance.
BIRNBAUM: It’s one of the things that does, yes.
GOHMERT: Did you think it was a good idea that what has now been revealed from the Coast Guard MMS joint investigation that the last two inspectors of Deepwater Horizon were a father and son pair? I mean I know they were union members but did you think that was a good idea that a father and son were working and checking each other’s back?
BIRNBAUM: Again, I cannot speak to anything with respect to the investigation of the Deepwater Horizon incident.
GOHMERT: Let’s talk hypothetically. Hypothetically would you think it’s a good idea to have a father and son be the ones that are double checking and being the fresh eyes on the other inspector?
BIRNBAUM: I would say it gives rise to questions.
Our friends at the local Louisiana news outlet The Hayride have done stellar coverage of the disaster locally.
They raise the possibility that this very round of questioning with Gohmert may be the reason Birnbaum
was fired resigned.
The latest photos of oil coming onshore and its impact to Louisiana are available at the Baton Rouge Advocate.