The American Petroleum Institute cut 40 employees, or 15 percent of its work force, yesterday as the trade group's president moved to refocus efforts on burnishing the oil industry's image.
"We've not been as effective as we could be in educating public officials or the public about the critical role of oil and gas in our economy," API President Jack Gerard said.
"You will see us evolve into a more nimble, more aggressive" organization, Gerard added. "We're going to be aggressive in our outreach to educate the public."
The cuts came as the final part of a reorganization that Gerard came to API, in part, to head up. He previous has reorganized two other trade groups, the National Mining Association and American Chemistry Council. When he was hired at API, Gerard said, he was asked if he could look at the organization and "move it into the future."
API has not been happy with how climate legislation has treated the oil and gas industry. The House-passed bill, which creates a system to cap carbon levels and require businesses to buy pollution permits, helps many businesses adjust to that change with a portion of free permits. But of those industries receiving free allowances, petroleum refiners would get the smallest amount. The Senate bill from Sens. John Kerry (D-Mass.) and Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) is fairly similar.
The oil influence group, in particular, needs to educate people about major investments the industry has made in renewable energy, Gerard said, and the importance of natural gas in the manufacturing sector.
"Those are the types of areas where we need to do a better job," Gerard said.
API also plans to increase social media work on sites including Twitter and Facebook, which Gerard said allows API to educate people about the industry "in a very cost-effective way."
The cuts were not driven by the need to reduce spending, Gerard said, although there will be savings as a result. API members will have confidence in the group, he said, if they believe their money is being used wisely.
In deciding which employees would be cut, Gerard and others at API drew up job descriptions with the skill sets they wanted people to have. They compared those with the skills of employees, Gerard said. Workers who matched kept their jobs, while others were let go.
The layoffs affected at least two lobbyists, Mark Kibbe and Sarah Magruder Lyle, according to a terminated employee who asked not to be identified. A phone operator at API said Kibbe and Lyle no longer worked at the company.
Two employees in the press shop also were cut, Robert Dodge and Rebecca Dobbins.
Employees were told in November to expect cutbacks. On Monday, workers received a memo telling them they would learn Thursday if they were being laid off. Those who were cut received e-mails telling them to go to a meeting, where they were terminated, according to a worker who was laid off.
The workers were not told why they were chosen, the terminated worker said.
"This whole process was very, very secretive," the worker said.
The terminations marked the final phase of Gerard's reorganization effort. In early November, four senior executives left the trade group: Jim Ford, who had been vice president for government relations; Jim Craig, who was vice president of communications; Brenda Hargett, who was chief financial officer; and Doug Morris, vice president of the upstream group.
API at that time said it was hiring Martin Durbin, then a lobbyist with the American Chemistry Council, whom Gerard knows from his previous role there.
The trade group may be making a few hires to fill select positions, Gerard said.