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WASHINGTON -- The new director of a government agency that oversees offshore drilling is creating an internal investigations team to help him improve the agency's performance.

Michael Bromwich, the new head of the Interior Department's Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement, said the investigative team will look into allegations of misconduct and respond quickly to emerging problems.

In testimony prepared for a Senate subcommittee Wednesday, Bromwich said the new unit will report directly to him and will help ensure that oil and gas companies comply with laws and regulations, as well as investigate problems within the agency itself.

A copy of his testimony was obtained by The Associated Press.

Bromwich, who took over Monday at the newly created ocean energy bureau, established a similar investigative team at the Justice Department when he served as its inspector general.

A former federal prosecutor, Bromwich, 56, has been given a broad mandate to reorganize the drilling agency, which until Monday was known as the Minerals Management Service.

The 1,700-employee agency, which both regulates the oil and gas industry and collects billions in royalties from it, has been criticized for a cozy relationship with oil companies and lax oversight.

The Obama administration plans to break up the agency into three separate entities to eliminate conflicts of interest. President Barack Obama announced Bromwich's appointment last week and said he had directed him to implement far-reaching changes.

Bromwich said the new investigative unit will focus on three main roles:
-- Investigating allegations of misconduct. A key component of reforming the bureau is prompt response to allegations or evidence of misconduct, both by agency employees and members of industry, Bromwich said. The new team will work with the Interior Department's inspector general's office and oversee internal auditing, regulatory oversight and enforcement systems.

-- Responding to high-priority issues. The compliance and monitoring unit will respond quickly to emerging issues and major events, Bromwich said.

-- Implementing agency reorganization. The planned reorganization will be a major undertaking, conducted under a strict timetable, and the investigative team will support bureau managers and help plan, coordinate and oversee the reorganization, Bromwich said.

(Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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