The Gulf Oil Spill Crisis: Meeting the Stewardship Challenge

By Dr. Robbin Laird and Rear Admiral Ed Gilbert, (Retired) 

President Obama Addresses the Media at USCG Station, Grand Isle, La. (Credit Photo: USCG Atlantic Area) 

President Obama Addresses the Media at USCG Station, Grand Isle, La.
(Credit Photo: USCG Atlantic Area)
 

The tragedy of the Gulf oil spill is likely to become a blame game ultimately.  This need not be so, and if it is the tragedy will be magnified and an opportunity lost. Crises such as these provide an opportunity to assert leadership to prepare for and to shape effective approaches for the future.   The challenge is to provide for a proper government stewardship role for the deepwater drilling enterprise and re-shaping the public-private partnership for such activities.  Make no mistake about it; we and other nations will drill in the deepwaters.  Simply planning for the green future is an exercise in aspirational politics, rather than realistic government adaptation to meet the near-term future. 

To execute a proper stewardship function, the US government team needs to be re-shaped, re-capitalized and strengthened. 

First, there is the re-shaping challenge.  To date, the USCG has had responsibility above the waters for inspections, and the Minerals Management Service for below the surface.  This now needs to be re-shaped with a new inspection sharing of powers to ensure that the entire enterprise can be inspected seamlessly with all the resources necessary for the jobs. 

Second, government simply does not have presently the scientific and technological expertise to oversee the deepwater drilling enterprise.  Scientific and technological experts need to be hired to provide the proper partners for the USCG and MMS to ensure effective oversight. Creative ways must be found to attract and keep people with these kinds of expertise. 

Third, the US government will never own all the expertise to provide for scientific and technological evaluations.  This can not be fully insourced, so that an effective scientific and technological partnership with the private sector is essential for success. 

USCG Buoy Tenders Are Being Recruited from Virually Every Sector for the Gulf Oil spill leaving their normal area of operations uncovered. (Credit Photo: Fox TV 10, http://www.fox10tv.com/dpp/news/gulf_oil_spill/buoy-tender-responds-to-oil-spill)

USCG Buoy Tenders Are Being Recruited from Virually Every Sector for the Gulf Oil spill leaving their normal area of operations uncovered. (Credit Photo: Fox TV 10)

 

Fourth, the USCG and the other inspection and oversight agencies need to be fully resourced to meet the challenge.  Rather than proceeding with cuts to the USCG, new money should be invested in the USCG role in building proper expertise.  The USCG has no tools for situational awareness and management below the waters, for example.  Inspectors able to oversee the enterprise need to be hired as well, rather than proceeding with personnel cuts in USCG staff. 

Fifth, the USCG needs to have fully funded task forces available for crises like these.  Built around additional resources such as national security cutters. A full team must be available to intervene in crises needs as an above normal operations approach. 

Sixth, the USCG has had to move many of its assets to the Gulf to deal with the crisis leaving the country at risk elsewhere.  This is unacceptable and can be solved only by increasing the speed of the overall recapitalization of the rapidly depleting USCG core capabilities. 

The Administration has spoken of the need to be an effective participate in protecting the global commons.  No clearer example of exercising leadership in he the global commons can be made than shaping an effective response to future deepwater drilling.  The oil spill is not simply an American affair, in the Gulf of Mexico; with the movement oil by the by currents, it becomes and Atlantic matter as well. 

We need hearings on how to properly move forward and to shape a recapitalization and stewardship budgets.  Rather than yet another hearing on the failures of the oil industry, it is about time to focus in a no nonsense way on the proper US government role.  We and the rest of the world should expect no less. 

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***Posted on August 8th, 2010

"If everyone is thinking alike, someone isn’t thinking."

—General George Patton Jr.

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