Obama's oil-spill opportunity
President Barack Obama was exactly right last week to emphasize his personal engagement in resolving the disastrous Gulf oil spill. Americans expect their presidents to take charge during tough times, and Obama emphatically did so.
It is not yet clear what more Obama can do to take charge, however. Even now, many in Washington are whispering that the administration has entered a long siege that will test the public's patience. The longer the spill continues -- and according to CNN, today is day 45 -- the more the public will demand action.
Obama must do much more than continuing hammering BP, which misled the country from the very moment of the crisis. He must do more than celebrate the fearless leadership of now-retired Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen, who seemed to be the only hand-on-deck at the start of the spill who knew port from starboard.
What he needs to do is offer, in a national address, three basic proposals -- and then demand action from Congress before the August recess.
First, Obama should start twisting arms on the climate bill. Congress has dithered on climate reform for too long, and, as we know, a crisis is a terrible thing to waste. Although it will take time to wean the U.S. from oil, it is time to start moving in that direction. He has the moral high ground on the issue, which he finally began to exploit yesterday in demanding action on climate change.
Second, Obama should undertake a government-wide assessment of the federal bureaucracy's ability to faithfully execute our laws. The oil spill is only the latest in a cascade of similar regulatory failures. Just substitute "Gulf oil spill" for Toyota recall, Christmas Day bombing plot, aircraft groundings and the Buffalo crash, counterfeit Heparin, and poisoned peppers. The Minerals Management Service is not the only conflicted agency in the federal bureaucracy, nor is it the only regulatory body that is under-staffed.
This is the perfect moment to reinvigorate the bureaucracy's ability to faithfully execute the laws, which involves a broad mix of reorganization, streamlining, and personnel reform. The public wants a government that works. Comprehensive reform is the only way to get it. Obama can easily put the Minerals Management Service at the heart of his proposal, but he must make the case for hiring enough inspectors to faithfully execute the laws across government. There are plenty of cozy relationships that need to be broken, and plenty of broken regulatory agencies that need repair.
Third, Obama should propose a new Hazards Advanced Research Project Agency. Modeled on the Defense Advanced Research Project Agency (DARPA) and given enough funding to stimulate innovative research, HARPA could take the lead in anticipating technological failures such as the oil spill, while providing an inventory of responses when accidents happen. Obama cannot plug the hole in the Gulf, but he most certainly can plug the hole in the federal government's capacity to take charge.
This Oil Spill Response Act could become one of Obama's great legislative achievements. Instead of folding into the same defensive crouch that led to Jimmy Carter's defeat in the 1980 election, he should take the offense. The oil spill need not be the end of his presidency. It could be the beginning of long-overdue action to make government work.
Please email us to report offensive comments.
Posted by: Severus | June 4, 2010 4:46 PM
Posted by: rachelrwelch | June 4, 2010 1:36 PM
Posted by: wmpowellfan | June 4, 2010 2:37 AM
Posted by: firstvarty1979 | June 4, 2010 2:00 AM
Posted by: alance | June 3, 2010 4:30 PM
Posted by: WmarkW | June 3, 2010 1:21 PM
The comments to this entry are closed.