Top Interior official heads to firm working for BP

WASHINGTON — The former chief of staff to Interior Secretary Ken Salazar has taken a job with one of the law firms representing BP in legal proceedings stemming from the massive Gulf oil spill last year.

Tom Strickland joined the Interior Department as Salazar’s chief of staff and an assistant secretary in 2009. He worked there at time when the department ushered in reforms and new ethical rules to reduce conflicts of interest between offshore oil drilling’s regulator and drilling companies after a series of scandals at offices in Colorado and along the Gulf Coast.

Federal law and an executive order from President Barack Obama bar Strickland temporarily from dealing with his former colleagues in government on any issue he worked on at the agency.

A managing partner for his new firm, WilmerHale, said Strickland would have no role in the firm’s work for BP in connection with April 2010 oil spill. The law firm is representing the company in the congressional, criminal and other executive branch investigations into the cause of the blowout, which resulted in the largest offshore oil spill in U.S. history and killed 11 workers.

Before joining the Interior Department, Strickland was the chief legal officer for UnitedHealth Group, worked in private practice and was also a former U.S. attorney in Colorado.