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Amid Negative Polls, Obama Sent More Manpower to Gulf, Hindering Response

Responding to polls that suggested the American people believed the federal government was not adequately responding to the oil spill, President Obama announced in May that he would triple oil spill response resources. That decision, a draft report from the national oil spill commission says, may have actually hindered the government’s response to the spill.

According to the report, which was today released in conjunction with three other draft staff reports by the spill commission, the Obama directive may have actually confused the spill response, throwing more manpower at an already complicated operation.

The report says:

Responders noted that “tripling” taxed the Coast Guard’s ability to respond and to conduct its other missions and may not have been the most effective use of a thin-spread force in a lengthy campaign. Tripling, or at least the arguable overreaction to the public perception of a slow response, resulted in resources being thrown at the spill in general rather than being targeted in an efficient way.

The Obama directive is just one example contained in today’s report, which give the federal government mixed reviews on its efforts to contain the massive Gulf oil spill. “In some respects, the response effectively implemented the provisions of the [National Contingency Plan] and helped to mitigate the most serious negative impacts of the spill,” the oil spill commission report says. “In other respects, the plan was inadequate to handle the scale of the spill—its magnitude, duration, and effects on many stakeholders.”

The initial response to the spill — the first nine days — was marked by a sense of “over-optimism,” the report says.

Responders almost uniformly noted that, while they understood that they were facing a major spill, they believed that BP would get the well under control. At least one high evel Coast Guard official thought that the oil would not come ashore and hesitated to open additional command posts. Responders viewed the event as an “incident” rather than a “campaign,” which is what it became.

But it’s unclear what impact this over-optimism had on the response. “While it is not clear that this misplaced optimism affected any individual response effort, it may have affected the scale and speed with which national resources were brought to bear,” the oil spill commission report says. “In hindsight, some Coast Guard responders thought that their initial approach was too slow and unfocused.” The report notes however that despite the slow initial response, by mid-June the Coast Guard was “fighting a war against the oil.”

On BP’s involvement in the response, the report suggests that the oil giant may have, in some cases, had more control than the federal government.* *

**The report says:

The organizational charts from the Unified Area Command and the Incident Command Posts show BP employees scattered through the command structure, in roles ranging from waste management to environmental assessment. In some command chains, a BP employee was at the top and a Coast Guard member would report up to the BP employee.

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