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K Street Files: Internal Combustion

When Jack Gerard, president of the American Petroleum Institute, was hired at the trade association last year, he suggested that he would not be making the kind of sweeping internal changes that he instituted in his previous job as head of the American Chemistry Council.

But such plans turned out to be short-lived as Gerard, known in the industry as a fixer of ailing organizations, just finished a house-cleaning at the API that included letting about 40 employees go.

“I was unfamiliar with the organization,” said Gerard, referring to his earlier comments. He said that after reviewing the energy association’s structure and talking to its members, “we felt we needed to make some significant changes at API.”

“We believe the changes we have made will reinvigorate the association,” Gerard said.

After the layoffs, Gerard said he will move to fill some of the vacant positions to cover some of the association’s weaknesses.

As an example, he said the association will be looking for personnel to improve API’s use of social media. He said such changes will help answer the question of “How do we better use viral technology?”

With the job cuts, which amounted to 15 percent of API’s staff, Gerard said the staff will number just more than 200 people, down from around 250. The cuts are the culmination of a reorganization that included the ouster of four API vice presidents, including Jim Ford, who was head of federal relations. Ford was replaced last month by Martin Durbin, who had been at the American Chemistry Council and is a nephew of Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.).

The API has long been a powerful voice for Big Oil in Washington, D.C. But the organization has experienced challenges in recent years as the Democratic-controlled Congress has sought climate change and energy bills that many in the industry oppose.

The API has spent $5.8 million on lobbying in the first three quarters of this year and contracted with a dozen outside firms to help its inside team. According to recently filed lobbying disclosures, those outside firms include Mehlman Vogel Castagnetti, Ogilvy Government Relations and a team at Olsson Frank Weeda that includes former Rep. Charlie Stenholm (D-Texas).

Gerard said he annually reviews the outside lobbying firms but has no immediate plans for replacing them at this time.

Thorsen Hangs Out Shingle. American Continental Group’s Carl Thorsen is starting his own firm, the Thorsen Group. Thorsen, who has been at ACG for the past five years, will open the new firm Jan. 1. The former general counsel to then-Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas) will continue to focus on judiciary, commerce and financial services issues.

So far, Thorsen is staying mum on his client list, but he has recently represented the Walt Disney Co., Comcast, Harbinger Financial Investments, the Motion Picture Association of America and others.

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