Take, for instance, testimony by Michael Saucier, the head of field operations for the New Orleans branch of the MMS, who told investigators about his team's oversight of federal safety standards for blowout preventers, or BOPs, often called the "last line of defense" against a spill.
After listening to Mr. Saucier detail MMS oversight of BOP testing, Coast Guard Capt. Hung Nguyen, co-chair of the federal investigative panel, sought clarification. "So my understanding is that [the BOP] is designed to industry standard, manufactured by industry, installed by industry with no government witnessing oversight of the construction or the installation; is that correct?"
"That would be correct," Saucier said.
At another point, Saucier told the panel that the MMS had "highly encouraged" companies to have backup systems to trigger blowout preventers in an emergency.
"Highly encourage?" Nguyen asked. "How does that translate to enforcement?"
"There is no enforcement," Saucier answered.
Given such testimony, experts say the key issue is simply getting rid of the cozy relationship between the oil industry and regulators. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar is taking steps to cut the MMS into three parts, separating safety enforcement from royalty collections and offshore leasing.
But the Government Accountability Office, the Inspector General's Office, and engineering experts who oversaw a 30-day safety report on offshore drilling all want more. Norway, the United Kingdom, and Australia have some of the world's best safety practices and regulations, they say.