WASHINGTON — After being asked by a U.S. Interior Department official to apologize for calling its employees the “Gestapo,” Rep. Jeff Landry, R-New Iberia, struck back Tuesday, writing that the agency should apologize for the slowness in issuing drilling permits.

Landry’s volley came a day after Michael Bromwich, director of the department’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement accused him of defamation and slander.

Bromwich was referring to comments Landry made last week calling BOEMRE workers in its New Orleans office “like the CIA and Gestapo.”

Landry complained he was turned away from the New Orleans office in a recent unannounced visit to inquire about the permitting process.

“The Gestapo was the German internal security police under the Nazis, known for its terroristic methods,” Bromwich, who is Jewish, wrote in a letter to Landry on Monday. “Your comparison to a minor inconvenience you experienced to the tactics and methods of the Nazi secret police is simply unacceptable from anyone, but especially from a public official.”

In the letter, Bromwich asked Landry to consider a public apology to division workers.

Landry responded by writing in a letter to Bromwich on Tuesday that he was acting in his official duty as a congressman and shouldn’t have been turned away at the office after being made to wait 20 minutes.

Landry visited the office on behalf of constituents, who have expressed frustration with the department’s pace of issuing drilling permits, he said.

“What has our country become when a sitting Member of Congress cannot simply visit a federal office or speak to federal employees without approval of their bosses sitting in Washington?” Landry wrote.

Landry was responding to one concern by a constituent, who heard that U.S. Department of Justice lawyers were “looking over the shoulders of BOEMRE engineers,” he said.

“This did not seem to be in keeping with the intended purpose of your agency: and, as a result, I had hoped that your engineers might be able to shed light on this problem,” Landry said. “I feel there is no reason to deny my request to visit the New Orleans office.”

As a result of Landry’s comments, Bromwich canceled a meeting scheduled at the office on Sept. 30. Landry said he will attend anyway.

“The people of south Louisiana sent me to Congress to do a job and part of the job is to provide oversight to ensure that taxpayer funded offices are indeed completing the functions for which they were created,” Landry wrote. “I intend to fulfill this mission.”

“If there is any apology necessary, it would be from you to me — and more importantly — to the hard-working people of South Louisiana, many of whom are now unemployed as a result of decisions from your agency,” Landry wrote.

Bromwich questioned in his letter whether Landry’s visit “is consistent with applicable ethics rules and sound judgment.”

“Our agency’s employees are well aware of their obligation to the public they loyally serve,” Bromwich wrote. “They do not believe they are under any obligations to meet with someone who slandered them this way.”

A BOEMRE spokeswoman on Tuesday declined to comment on Landry’s letter.