In the wake of the deadly BP oil-rig disaster in the Gulf of Mexico and a fire that broke out on a nearby rig Thursday, it's fortunate that President Obama appears to be moving ahead quickly on his administration's pledge to "clean up the mess" at the Interior Department.
A former federal prosecutor and Department of Justice inspector general, Michael R. Bromwich, was named in June to take over the agency that oversees offshore drilling.
That was followed last week by the enactment of tough, new ethics rules for the renamed Bureau of Ocean Energy Management.
The agency responsible for regulating drillers and approving leases has been blasted by Interior Department investigators for being too cozy with oil and gas officials.
In fact, some at the agency had gotten in bed with industry - literally. In addition to reports of federal regulators accepting hunting trips, football tickets, meals, and other gifts from company officials, a 2008 inspector general probe exposed agency employees who were having sex with oil-company executives.
Regulators sharing pillow talk with oil drillers hardly can be counted on to make tough calls regarding drilling safety and oil- and gas-rights leasing issues where millions in government fees are in play.
Indeed, the former Minerals Management Service did such a lousy job of tracking oil-royalty payments due to Washington in the form of oil and gas supplies that Interior Secretary Ken Salazar scrapped the in-kind program last year.
The new ethics rules should put some healthy distance between industry and federal inspectors, who will be barred from dealing with any oil or gas company that employs a relative or friend.
Agency staffers will be required to notify supervisors of potential conflicts of interest that arise.
Anyone joining the bureau from industry will be prohibited for two years from dealing with his old firm. Of course, regulators should not be accepting gifts or favors from industry officials.
The greatest concern raised by cronyism between regulators and industry officials is the potential impact on safety.
So the main aim in tightening oversight must be that safety lapses like those that led to the BP rig explosion on April 20 and the months-long oil spill are caught by regulators and corrected to head off another disaster.