Special Reports

Goodbye MMS: Oil regulating agency gets makeover

WASHINGTON — The Minerals Management Service — well, the name anyway — now sits on the scrap heap of discarded monikers alongside ValuJet, Blackwater and Enron Field. Not that a new name makes it any easier for the Obama administration to convince a skeptical Congress that the agency will be any better at policing offshore drilling.

The new name, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement — or BOE for short — is designed to emphasize regulatory and enforcement responsibilities of the troubled agency, which is part of the Interior Department. The change comes in the wake of the disastrous BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

MMS had been panned for its lax oversight of offshore drilling. A recent report by the department’s inspector general said that its drilling regulators have been so close to the industry that they’ve accepted gifts from oil and gas companies and even negotiated to go work for the companies.

Michael R. Bromwich, the new head of the MMS — er, BOE — assured Congress that the change is much more than cosmetic.

“I think it’s substantive,” Bromwich said. “Regulation and enforcement have been added to the title of the agency because those elements, I think, by consensus have been lacking in the approach of the agency.”

One marketing expert told The Associated Press that the Obama administration has made a mistake by changing the name at a time when the agency is still the focus of negative attention. The danger, said Kelly O’Keefe, managing director of the Virginia Commonwealth University Brandcenter, is that the new name gets tarnished with the old baggage.

“If you’re trying to dodge a negative situation, it is a very bad idea to do that in the middle of that negative situation,” O’Keefe said.

“Because what happens is the bad news isn’t over — it certainly isn’t for MMS or BP.”

“It’s really hard to pull a fake-out, to say, ‘Hey, we’re something different now,”’ O’Keefe added. “We tend to see through that.”

Or, as “The Daily Show” host Jon Stewart deadpanned last week, “Are we really that stupid?”

“This isn’t just a name change or branding exercise,” said Interior spokeswoman Kendra Barkoff. The new name, she said, reflects Interior Secretary Ken Salazar’s mission for the agency as it undergoes reorganization. Salazar plans to break up the agency into three separate entities to eliminate conflicts of interest.

When it comes to MMS, Stewart questioned the need for a new name.

“Why don’t we just rename the water in the Gulf ‘H20 Black’?” he asked.