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Obama names choice to reform oil drilling regulator

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Barack Obama chose a former Justice Department official on Tuesday to reform the Minerals Management Service, an agency blamed for lax regulation of offshore drilling ahead of the Gulf of Mexico oil spill.

A White House official said Michael Bromwich, a former assistant U.S. attorney and Justice Department inspector general, will not become head of the agency as it will be broken up under the reforms.

The former head of the agency, Liz Birnbaum, resigned in May in the fallout over the government's response to the spill.

"For a decade or more, the cozy relationship between the oil companies and the federal agency was allowed to go unchecked," Obama said in a statement announcing Bromwich's appointment.

"That allowed drilling permits to be issued in exchange not for safety plans, but assurances of safety from oil companies. That cannot and will not happen anymore," he said.

The White House said Bromwich would develop new industry oversight plans to replace "inadequate practices" with a new "gold-standard approach" for safety and environmental regulation.

He will spearhead the reorganization of the agency to get rid of conflicts of interest among its various missions such as setting safety standards, regulating compliance, and taking in royalties.

Bromwich has a record of overhauling organizations including federal agencies and local police departments in Houston and Washington, the White House said.

The announcement came ahead of Obama's speech from the Oval Office on Tuesday about the BP oil spill.

(Reporting by Jeff Mason, editing by Vicki Allen)