Thursday, July 8, 2010

Guess who's calling the shots on the Deepwater Horizon response...

Exactly who in the federal government is calling the shots on the Deepwater Horizon Incident response?   Admiral Thad Allen might have let it slip yesterday during his daily media briefing, but it's useful to examine a little background, first.

As described by this official, the process is circuitous and irrational. At the Incident Command level, BP and Coast Guard appear to each have veto authority over equipment requests. Under this power-sharing arrangement – in which BP holds the purse strings – if one disagrees, then the request is denied. Parishes must then petition the Governor’s office for the equipment. If the Governor endorses the request, then BP and Coast Guard must provide the assets. This process causes massive delay resulting in a dearth of available equipment. It also calls into question the President’s assertion that “BP is operating at our direction.”

The preceding quote is from the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform report (PDF) released on July 1, 2010 and is describing the process local officials have to go through to obtain equipment.  The report basically exposes the federal government's response as a PR sham.

What the report also exposes is the fact that the "Unified Command" and Incident Commander don't have any real authority.  As the Incident Commander under the NIMS protocol, Admiral Allen should be vested with final decision-making authority.  But the governmnent is not following the NIMS protocol.  They have instead formed a "Unified Command," in which command representatives from more than one agency function as a command unit.  One of the group serves as a spokesman, but is not designated as the Incident Commander.

So what is Admiral Thad Allen?  Is he the spokesman for the Joint Command, or is he the Incident Commander?  How about none of the above?  During yesterday's media briefing, Admiral Allen was involved in the following Q&A exchange with reporters:

Q: [Jaquetta White, New Orleans Times-Picayune] I think yesterday you said you were in Houston to meet with BP officials, and I was wondering if there were any results—any outcome from that meeting you'd care to discuss (inaudible).

ADMIRAL ALLEN: We went over three things. We went over the current effort to hook up the Helix Producer to get us to the third production platform that would bring our capacity to between 50,000 and 53,000 barrels a day to the current containment cap. And then we looked at more detailed procedures on how they would replace the current containment cap with a cap that would actually be bolted on to the flange below the current riser pipe.

The time that it would take to do that, the steps that it would take, and the weather that would be required to do that, we are talking about that inside the administration right now, and those talks are continuing. I will have to get back to Washington and continue the conversations (inaudible).

OPERATOR: Ladies and gentlemen, this is the operator. We're—we'll be at a slight delay at today's conference, if everyone holds just one moment.

ADMIRALL ALLEN: This is Admiral Allen. We got cut off. I am back. Do we have the questioner still on?

Q: Yes. Can you place any kind of percentage on what the decision would be to replace the cap at this point? Would you think you're 50/50 or are you still leaning 80 percent, 90 percent toward actually coming up with the tighter cap?

ADMIRAL ALLEN: We are still reviewing the technical specifications that were provided to us by BP on not only that cap, but several other options. The procedures on how it would be done, the amount of time at which the well would be open for discharge of some amount of oil, and the weather window that it would take to do that, and that is all under review right now inside the administration, and I wouldn't want to attach a percentage right now.

NOTE: Allen was aboard the Discoverer Enterprise during the telephone conference and there were wind squalls and 6-9' seas throughout the day. So there's probably nothing to be drawn from the fact that the line went dead right after he mentioned 'the administration.' hmmm.

Admiral Allen is not in charge.  He's not even the Incident Commander.  If that were the case, and BP convinced him that the technical specifications for the new cap were solid, he could give the order to make it happen.

But decisions like this aren't being made by Incident Command, joint, unified, or otherwise.  They're being made in Washington, DC, by Barack Hussein Obama, the real Incident Commander.

Gimme some feedback in the comments.