How the White House Mismanaged the Oil Spill

A commission reveals administration missteps

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A commission appointed by President Obama to look into the BP spill has released its preliminary report. The findings? The government didn't handle things well: in fact, in the words of The Guardian, "the White House blocked government scientists from warning the American public of the potential environmental disaster." There's much more, too, with conservatives finding evidence of a belated government "overreaction," and pundits questioning the administration's basic competence.

  • 'Playing the Public for a Fool'  That's what this report is "proof" of, says finance blogger Yves Smith. She things "one of the revealing parts of where Obama's true priorities lay was in his keeping informed third parties, most important scientists, as far away from the scene of the crime as possible." This obfuscation was already known, but "having official confirmation underscores some of the glaring weaknesses of the executive team, in particular, lack of competence and resolve."

  • 'Inefficiencies and Overreaction'  Interestingly, though most parties are focusing on the White House's reported under-response to the spill, Nicolas Loris of the conservative Heritage Foundation phrases it somewhat differently: "Not enough urgency in the beginning. Too much urgency when everything was under control." The second part of this "resulted in resources being thrown at the problem in an inefficient way."
  • Is This Fair?  Time's Jeffrey Kluger isn't so sure. "The commission is right that there was a random, wheel-of-fortune quality to the ever-changing estimates of the flow rate," but "part of the reason for the uncertainty was the lack of good monitoring data." In other words, the administration didn't have much choice when it came to relying on BP numbers. In addition, while he doesn't think the White House handled the situation particularly well, he points out that "it's a measure, perhaps, of how comparatively well the crisis was handled that as the six-month anniversary approaches, the majority of the discussions are over post-mortem analyses like the new report as opposed to over how to handle a still-unfolding environmental disaster."
  • Failure to Act on Own Estimates  Though Kluger at Time defends the administration by saying it didn't have much better information than what it was acting on, the part of the report New York Magazine's Josh Duboff focuses on suggests otherwise. It says the administration "'failed to act upon or fully inform the public of its own worst-case estimates' ... [and] continually underestimated the amount of oil flowing into the Gulf of Mexico, ignoring contradictory information from scientists who had 'better methodologies.'"
  • If This Were the Bush Administration  "Questions about its competence and its anti-science bent would be asked openly and constantly," suggests The New Ledger's Pejman Yousefzadeh. "We were repeatedly assured that if only we elect an Administration made up of people who like government, then government would work better (Paul Krugman has been a major advocate on this theme). It just isn’t happening."
  • Commission Intent on Showing Independence Government!  "The Oil Spill Commission's Twitter feed actually approvingly tweeted out stories about this report," points out Firedoglake's David Dayen, "so they want it to be well-known that the government screwed up." He also points to other working papers being released: "I’d say the OSC wants to portray themselves as an independent watchdog, with nobody getting a free pass."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.