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Friday, July 02, 2010

Issa Report Highlights Government Incompetence and Double Talk in Gulf Oil Spill

Day 74
I also want to stress that we are working closely with the Gulf states and local communities to help every American affected by this crisis. Let me be clear: BP is responsible for this leak; BP will be paying the bill. But as President of the United States, I'm going to spare no effort to respond to this crisis for as long as it continues. And we will spare no resource to clean up whatever damage is caused. And while there will be time to fully investigate what happened on that rig and hold responsible parties accountable, our focus now is on a fully coordinated, relentless response effort to stop the leak and prevent more damage to the Gulf.
– President Barack Obama, May 2, 2010.
For two weeks now the Obama Administration has distracted Americans from the growing disaster in the Gulf. First, the firing of General McChrystal and then the hearings for Supreme Court nominee Kagan. But as the oil continues to gush from the Deep Horizon well questions continue to mount about the government response. Slicks miles offshore headed to land and not a skimming boat in sight. Readers have seen the photos of oil stained beaches and dead or dying wildlife and asked "why isn't more being done."

Darrell Issa (R-CA) the Ranking Member of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform has been looking into the matter and recently published this 16 page report. It reads like a catalog of incompetence and political c.y.a. when what is really needed is leadership and command from the top on down.

Key Findings in the Issa Report:

- Officials on the ground dispute key White House assertions about the number and timeliness of assets deployed in the Gulf. Local officials describe White House outreach efforts as more focused on stopping bad press than on addressing the disaster at hand;
• The White House’s assurances that there are adequate resources are at odds with the reality on the ground, where those on the frontline of the spill express significant frustration over the lack of assets. Local complaints are supported by the fact that the White House waited until Day 70 of the oil spill to accept critical offers of international assistance. Local workers and boats could have been assisting more with the clean-up if the Federal government had provided them with needed supplies and equipment;
• While the White House has tried to use the delay in finding a visible leak to explain its early silence on the oil spill, Transocean officials and Coast Guard documents from the scene of the oil spill reveal clear and early indications of a substantial oil leak days earlier than White House accounts;
• The failure of Administration officials to quickly waive laws preventing necessary foreign assets from reaching the Gulf and other regulations are hampering efforts to clean-up and limit damage from the oil spill. Local officials feel the federal government is making the perfect the enemy of the good in cleanup efforts;

• Local officials strongly dispute President Obama’s insistence that the federal government – and not BP – has been in control since day one. One Coast Guard Admiral told congressional investigators that decisions on the ground are made through a “consensus-based” process with BP. In practice, the Federal Government is not in charge of oil spill response efforts through a command-and-control approach;
• Local officials strongly believe the President’s call for a drilling moratorium will significantly compound the economic damage caused by the oil spill and will actually increase risk associated with future offshore drilling projects.

However, the detail in the report is even more troubling:

The White House blog details a number of assets deployed in the region to combat the spill. This includes vessels, boom, and dispersant. The number of assets claimed, however, does not appear to match what is actually in the field. Parish officials maintain that the thousands of vessels cited in the blog are non-existent. One senior official refers to them as “phantom assets.” When asked to elaborate, he explained that when he asks the federal government to provide the location of its assets, it either refuses or cannot do so.4 Daily helicopter search grids performed by the Parish sheriff’s department confirm to him that very few of the assets claimed are deployed.

This is corroborated by Plaquemines Parish President Billy Nungesser, who shared a similar story with investigators. BP and Coast Guard provided Mr. Nungesser with a map of the Gulf allegedly pinpointing the exact locations of 140 skimmers cleaning up oil. Sensing that the chart may have been somewhat inaccurate, Mr. Nungesser requested a flyover of the assets for verification. After three cancelled trips, officials admitted to Mr. Nungesser that only 31 of the 140 skimmers were ever deployed. The rest were sitting at the docks. According to Mr. Nungesser, the chart appeared to have been fabricated.
...
The doublespeak surrounding the existence of vessels and the availability of boom to clean up oil in the water, as well as a belief that BP and the federal government are disregarding the priorities of local communities, have incensed Parish officials. LaFourche President Charlotte Randolph told committee staff that “we would have liked to have played offense. Would like to have made an effort to collect at the site instead of the shoreline.” This belief is echoed by a Jefferson Parish official who, within days of the explosion, warned BP and the Coast Guard that oil was rapidly approaching and requested that they deploy equipment to prevent it from reaching shore. The local official told committee investigators that, “they all said ‘don’t worry about it.’”
"Don't worry, we're from the government and we are here to help!" Famous last words!

Issa's conclusion speaks for itself:

"These testimonials from the people who are on the frontlines of this crisis have brought to light a bureaucratic quagmire that is exacerbating the response and clean-up effort-- in a post-Katrina world, this is unimaginable and unacceptable," Issa said in a statement. "The evidence on the ground suggests that the White House has been more focused on the public relations of this crisis than with providing local officials the resources they need to deal with it."

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