Obama's Oily Katrina; This Administration Is Not So Slick after All

Article excerpt


Back in 2007, then-Sen. Barack Obama critiqued the Bush administration's response to Hurricane Katrina. There is not a sense of urgency out of this White House and this administration, he declared, two years after the disaster struck. Now, more than a month since the Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded and sank, with a massive oil spill making landfall on the Gulf coast, Louisiana's Gov. Bobby Jindal is the one calling for more urgency. The only rush in Washington is over where to shift the blame.

Mr. Obama apparently never had a plan for responding to this disaster. The White House seemingly felt that if the administration didn't treat it as a crisis, it would go away. If fingers were to be pointed, they could direct them at BP. That political strategy worked well for a week or so. But BP has failed to come to grips with the spill, and the White House, lacking ready solutions, looks feeble and rudderless.

When the rig blew up on April 20, the U.S. Coast Guard made a commendable effort to save lives of oil-rig workers. After that, the government assumed the posture of a deer in the headlights. It took a week for Mr. Obama to issue the panicky command directive plug the damn hole, but he did not otherwise seem concerned. He waited almost two weeks to visit Louisiana, being held up by higher priorities like meeting U2's Bono in the Oval Office and doing a standup routine at the White House Correspondents' Dinner.

Military assets were available for immediate response to the catastrophe, but the Department of Homeland Security had to make a request before they could act. DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano seemed unaware of this requirement. She waited nine days to declare the spill of national significance and admitted she didn't know the Defense Department had any equipment that might be helpful. (For the record, the Naval Research Laboratory pioneered oil-spill control methods in the 1970s, and the Navy maintains oil-containment gear stockpiles around the world for emergency response to just these types of catastrophes.)

On Monday, the Commerce Department declared a fishery disaster in the Gulf, but the Federal Emergency Management Agency has yet to declare the oil spill a major disaster. …