At a White House press briefing this week, Coast Guard Admiral Thad Allen, the National Incident Commander for the spill in the Gulf, addressed the question of who’s in charge of the spill cleanup. Criticism is growing that the Obama administration isn’t doing enough and needs to take firmer control of the situation.
QUESTION: “(Department of Interior) Secretary Salazar said yesterday, referring to BP, “If we find that they’re not doing what they’re supposed to be doing, we’ll push them out of the way appropriately.” What does that mean, “push them out of the way”? What more could be done?
ADMIRAL ALLEN: “Well, I would say that's more of a metaphor. What we need to make sure is they execute their responsibilities, the responsible party, and we carry out our responsibilities and be accountable as the federal on-scene coordinators. This is what we do, is if something is going -- if BP is applying resources, there is an operation being conducted, and we want it to be done some other way, they’re issued an order by the federal on-scene coordinator, and they comply. And there have been adjustments made all the way along. And if I need to, I call (BP CEO) Tony Hayward myself. They’re the responsible party, but we have the authority to direct.
QUESTION: “So their role is still -- to make sure I have this right -- their role is still to be in charge of this operation, and the federal government’s role is to be in charge of oversight, and that is not going to change?”
ADMIRAL ALLEN: “I think I'd differentiate ‘in charge.’ They are responsible for the cleanup, how that's effected. Ultimately, we are accountable, from the federal government side, to make sure they do it. The law requires them, as the responsible party, to play a certain role -- to pay for it, to provide equipment, and so forth -- and particularly with trying to deal with the leak on the bottom of the ocean. They’re 5,000 feet down. BP or the private sector are the only ones that have the means to deal with that problem down there. It’s not government equipment that's going to be used to do that. So there’s got to be a way where private industry can address the problem with proper oversight by the federal government. I would say it’s less a case of ‘in charge’.”
QUESTION: “Is there -- to this point, though, whether the government can do more, can it push BP out of the way if it feels like that company is not doing the job? What is your response to that?”
ADMIRAL ALLEN: “Well, to push BP out of the way would raise the question to replace them with what?”
QUESTION: “You said if BP were to get out of the way, it raises the question of who would step in. Mr. Suttles, today, from BP said, it would be within the government’s area to step in if it wanted to. What does that mean? Could the government step in? Does it have the capacity to do so?”
ADMIRAL ALLEN: “I hear everybody saying it. I’m not sure what that term really means. I know that to work down there you need remotely operated vehicles; you need to do very technical work at 5,000 feet. You need equipment and expertise that's not generally within the government -- federal government in terms of competency, capability or capacity. There may be some other way to get it, but I’m the National Incident Commander and right now the relationship with BP is the way I think we should move forward.