MMS Chief Elizabeth Birnbaum Resigns

Elizabeth Birnbaum, director of the U.S. Minerals Management Service, resigned Thursday morning, after reports of mismanagement of her department in wake of the BP oil spill.

There was confusion as to if Elizabeth Birnbaum was fired or resigned.

“She resigned today on her own terms and on her own volition,” Interior Secretary Ken Salazar told James Moran and other members of the House Appropriations Committee panel that focuses on the interior and the environment.

She “is a strong and very effective person who, among other things, helped us break through the very difficult things which we have a lot more work to do,” Salazar said. “She helped us with addressing a very broken system. And all I can really [say] is that she is a good public servant.”

“You’re assuming she was fired. … I don’t know. I’m telling you — I found out about it this morning,” Obama said in response to a question at his afternoon press conference. “I don’t yet know the circumstances, and Ken Salazar’s been in testimony on the Hill.”

Elizabeth Birnbaum was in charge of the government agency that grants leases to oil companies and monitors offshore drilling. The Minerals Management Service agency has come under criticism for lax oversight since the BP well explosion in the Gulf of Mexico on April 20.

In a written statement, Birnbaum said she is “grateful” to President Obama and Salazar for allowing her “to serve this administration and the country.”

“It’s been a great privilege to serve as director of MMS,” Birnbaum said. “I have enormous admiration for the men and women of the MMS who do a difficult job under challenging circumstances. I’m hopeful that the reforms that the secretary and the administration are undertaking will resolve the flaws in the current system that I inherited.”

Elizabeth Birnbaum took over the position in July 2009. She will not be reassigned to another sector of the government.

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