By Nicolas Loris
President Obama’s National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling released four papers discussing several aspects of the federal response, including the use of dispersants and contingency plans for possible future spills. But a large part of the commission’s report and what’s garnering most of the attention in the media is the government’s mismanagement of the spill.
One of the four paper says, “The federal government created the impression that it was either not fully competent to handle the spill or not fully candid with the American people about the scope of the problem.”
The commission faults the Administration for underreporting the initial spill amounts and the Office of Management and Budget for denying requests from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to make worst-case scenarios known to the public. The report was also critical of the inefficiencies and the overreaction by the Unified Command Center. The Wall Street Journal reports:
While Coast Guard personnel told the commission in interviews that they had enough equipment by the end of May, the president announced around that same time that he would triple the federal manpower responding to the spill. The paper calls this “the arguable overreaction to the public perception of a slow response.”
The tripling effort resulted in resources being thrown at the problem in an inefficient way. For example, the commission paper says, the National Incident Command staffers thought they needed to buy every skimmer they could find, even though they were hearing that responders had enough skimmers.
Not enough urgency in the beginning. Too much urgency when everything was under control. If the public was overreacting and the government responded to that overreaction, you wouldn’t know it. The government was quick and persistent in publicly slamming BP but not when it came to conveying messages to the public about the extent of the spill.
The commission is right to point out that the legislation in place was never meant to handle an oil spill of this magnitude. State and local governments are more familiar with and prepared to respond through the Incident Command relationships as conducted through the National Response Framework by the authority of the Stafford Act. On the other hand, the Incident Command system established under the Oil Pollution Act of 1990 is not well suited for handling multiple states and diverse jurisdictions within states.
For example, during the Deepwater Horizon response, the Coast Guard had to establish liaison officers at the county level in order to facilitate a more harmonious relationship between local authorities and the Incident Command team. Furthermore, in the Gulf region, a major oil-producing area, preparations should account for the real possibility that there could have been a major hurricane during the course of the recovery.
The President may well have had to exercise his authority under the Stafford Act, with the Federal Emergency Management Agency playing the lead role in hurricane recovery. Thus, under current laws the federal government could have two competing disaster operations occurring at the same time. This is nonsensical. The Oil Pollution Act should be amended to harmonize responses for Spills of National Significance with the National Response Framework.
The commission is right to fault the Administration’s response effort. As we reported from the very get-go, the oil spill response was “stuck on stupid.”