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James Watson, Director, Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement James Watson, Director, Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement

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Interior Department

James Watson, Director, Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement


(Chet Susslin)

Watson, 57, spent most of his career in the Coast Guard, working his way up the ranks and serving in commands across the country, from San Diego to Miami. He eventually attained the rank of rear admiral and assumed the position of deputy commander of the Atlantic Area, headquartered in Portsmouth, Va. In this capacity, Watson helped lead the federal government's response to the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill off the Louisiana coast, an assignment that brought him into contact with officials from the Interior Department. As part of a reorganization in response to the oil spill, Interior created the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement, and then-Secretary Ken Salazar tapped Watson to lead the agency, which is responsible for safety and environmental oversight of offshore oil and gas exploration. Watson said the position provides "a continuation of my passion for safety and environmental protection, which I spent most of my Coast Guard career involved with." Watson has served as the director of the agency since December 2011; he announced this month he will leave in August for a job in Houston. After growing up in Baltimore,  he attended the U.S. Coast Guard Academy, graduating in 1978. He has earned master's degrees in naval architecture and mechanical engineering from the University of Michigan, as well as one in strategic studies from the National Defense University.

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