The Complacency of Tony Hayward

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>Today's dramatic House hearing featuring BP CEO Tony Hayward has developed a rhythmic dialogue pattern:

Angry Congressman: Did ___ decision lead to the oil spill?

Hayward: It is too early to reach a conclusion.

Angry Congressman: How much time and money did ___ decision save?

Hayward: I was not involved in the decision-making process.

Angry Congressman: Why are you stonewalling this hearing?

Hayward: I was simply not involved in the decision-making process.

The theatrics began when Texas Republican Joe Barton personally apologized to Hayward for the $20 billion claims fund President Obama convinced Hayward to set up yesterday. They continued with a writhing protester being dragged out of the room as Hayward began his opening statement. The protester, who appeared to have oil smeared across her face, repeatedly screamed at Hayward, "You need to be charged with a crime!"

Bart Stupak, chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee's Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, began questioning by pointing out that in the past five years, BP accidents have led to the deaths of 26 people and the injuring of 170 as well as to two of the largest environmental disasters the U.S. has ever seen (in 2006, a leaking portion of the company's Prudhoe Bay pipeline spilled tens of thousands of gallons of oil across the Alaskan tundra).

Hayward, his soft voice and droopy eyes making him appear on the verge of sleep, responded by describing the renewed focus on safety that he claims to have brought to the company when he stepped in as chief executive in 2007. "We've engaged in systematic change at BP over the past three years. We have begun to change the culture. I'm not denying that there's more to do ... but we have made safe, reliable operations the core of the company." The fact that he'd invested so much energy in rehabilitating BP's safety practices, Hayward said, was one of the reasons he was so "devastated" by the Deepwater Horizon accident.

After ranking subcommittee Republican Michael Burgess lobbied a series of highly technical questions at Hayward, to which the CEO claimed to be unable to respond, a slight edge crept into Hayward's voice. "With all due respect, sir, we drill hundreds of wells across the world," he said. "I know," Burgess replied. "That's what's worrying me."

California Democrat Henry Waxman also grew irritated with Hayward's complacency. At the end of a series of questions to which Hayward pled ignorance or prematurity, Waxman sighed, "I'm just amazed at this testimony. Mr. Hayward, you are not taking responsibility. You're kicking the can down the road and pretending you have nothing to do with this accident. And I find that irresponsible."

The subcommittee broke around 1 p.m. for a little over an hour before resuming later in the afternoon.

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Nicole Allan is a former senior editor at The Atlantic.

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