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Exploring Leadership in the News with Steven Pearlstein and Raju Narisetti

Donald Kettl
Academic Dean

Eager for free lunches

Q: Republican leaders have built their energy policies around increased oil and gas extraction, dismissing environmental dangers. How should they respond to the Gulf oil spill if they want to preserve offshore drilling as a politically viable option?

We've learned hard lessons in the last week. Two mega-events, with two very different results: in the hunt for the Times Square wanna-be bomber, we nailed it cold. Despite everyone's best efforts, the Gulf is a mess. What's the difference?

The response to both events build on unforgettable disasters of the past: September 11 and the Exxon Valdez. After each one, we promised to learn the lessons so painfully taught. The quick capture of the wanna-be bomber shows we've gotten much better at solving the connect-the-dots puzzle. The Jack Bauer-like investigation involved a startling number of agencies--federal, state, and local--who worked together in new-textbook fashion. This is precisely what the 9/11 Commission urged as the nation's new strategy.

The tale in the Gulf is a very different one. As commentator Bill Kristol reminds us, offshore drilling is "quite safe" and "very environmentally clean"--except when it isn't. After the Exxon Valdez spilled 10.8 million gallons of oil, government and industry both pledged we'd prevent such a disaster from occurring again. If the newly designed caps over the wells fail to hold, we're on our way to even more oil than from the Exxon Valdez spilling into habitats even more fragile than the Prince William Sound.

The Times Square investigation was such a rousing success because, since September 11, we've invested in lots of new technology, including surveillance cameras and a souped-up no-fly list (which almost but not quite allowed Faisal Shahzad to slip through). Far more important, we invested a lot in people--the smart dot-connectors who have learned how to work across the boundaries of government organizations, at truly surprising speed, to get information to other smart people who could quickly and decisively fact on it. In fact, The Shahzad case points to the fundamental but often overlooked lesson of September 11--technology helps, but smart people with honed instincts in the right places are the key.

The Deepwater Horizon, hovering off the Louisiana coast atop a mile-long pipe to the seabed, is a very different tale. For days, we didn't know how much oil the wellhead was leaking--or even, in fact, that it was still gushing. We still don't know why the redundant shutoff valves failed to plug the hole. We trusted BP to run the well, to stop the flow, and to manage the cleanup. The company tried mightily, but at every turn the disaster outstripped its ability to respond until, finally, there was no recourse but to call for government to ride to its aid.

We put our faith in environmental rules, corporate policies, technological fixes, and small government. As happens so often, the fervor to get government off our backs only created an inescapable demand for even bigger government: in the first case, to bring in armies of reinforcements to solve the problem, and eventually to write a pile of new rules to make sure the problems never recur. If this is like past disasters, we'll end up with lots of new backward-facing regulations, all designed to prevent the last crisis, without looking ahead at the real and significant risks that lie ahead and that might not look like the last ones.

This reflex is part of an even bigger problem: yet again, our eagerness for easy solutions to big and inescapable problems have lured us into fast-moving technologies much more advanced than our ability to control them. In our eagerness for cheap money and cheap homes, we allowed ourselves to get sucked into financial instruments that no one understood--and that dragged us into a global recession. In our "drill, baby, drill" push to keep gas prices from rising, we allowed ourselves to take risks that, in turn, have brought on an environmental disaster whose costs are still exploding.

The homeland security puzzles are tough and remain very threatening. We still need to be lucky, but there's strong evidence in the Times Square case that we're also getting good. In the oily Gulf waters, however, there's strong evidence that we are continuing to court disaster in many other areas: not only by betting too much on things we understand far too little, but in driving our government with the pedal to the metal but looking in the rear-view mirror to steer. That's risky on any road, and even more on hard-to-predict 21st century superhighways.

But even in the rear-view mirror, the course is clear and it's mapped from the Shahzad case. Backward-steering courts catastrophe. We need a government with its eyes fully on the road ahead, that protects us from our eagerness for free lunches, and that is smart enough to know when to give us room to compete in the new century's economy. We're not anywhere near that yet and, the more we drift into that muddle, the more Gulf disasters we court.

By Donald Kettl

 |  May 6, 2010; 1:09 PM ET
Category:  Political leadership Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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I read the list of 32 politicians who received donations from BP.
and of course, no mention of thier
biggest buddy. BARRACK OBAMA.
This is an absolute media conspiracy.
Tony Rezko would be on 60 minutes if it
was a republican who laundered his money
and did his bidding.

democrats are the gangsters with the
public relations companies to keep them

axelrod and assoc. Great Job.
Gibbs and Comp. Great Job.
a jew and a hillbilly,
and an untouchable chicago gangster.

Posted by: simonsays1 | May 7, 2010 3:42 PM
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why does 1428 MUSLIM suicide bombings in Pakistan last year not get any press.
"death to the infidels"

I'm sure to you, it sounds the same
as 'christ be with you'

Posted by: simonsays1 | May 7, 2010 3:28 PM
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This may have made sense in academia, but to the 'outside' world it seems to be the random rumblings of someone out of touch with reality.
The Times Square wannabe bomber was an idiot. We were lucky to catch him, but I don't think Jack Bauer would envy the 'efficiency' of our probe.
Didn't Katrina teach you anything about the government's response to natural disasters? To say there wasn't enough government involvement means you have a VERY selective memory for such things.

Posted by: natecar | May 7, 2010 2:42 PM
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This is what rational, logical people have to contend with in discussing current events with a liberal. Up is down - black is white - right is wrong.
Just another Obozo cheerleader. This guy is nuts!

Posted by: steveiev | May 7, 2010 2:34 PM
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Thanks god that the bomb didn't go off. The bomber was lucky that he got caught in the US. If he had escaped, he could easily be identified and be brought back to the US, but before being tortured in the hands of another country. Wasn't it the case of the Pakistani terrorist named Kansi who was caught in Afghanistan and was brought to justice? The government doesn't deserve credit. Even a high school kid could put these links together and find out who placed the bomb. The fact that he could board the airplane is alarming. It is an indication that the government needs to do a much better job.
Unfortunately, in the case of the oil leak, the bomb went off and the damage is done. I am sure no one is going to be arrested and be brought to justice as in the case of the time square bomber.

Posted by: moemir4 | May 7, 2010 1:34 PM
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The entire premise of the article is lunacy, the author is a fool

Posted by: Obamasnotyamama | May 7, 2010 1:30 PM
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Also, it helps not to overlook what should be obvious if we think about it:

On energy: Go with solar in the longer term and import oil from Canada in the meantime. Canada has 180 billion barrels of proven reserves and over a trillion barrels (more than the entire Middle East) with further advances in recovery technology - none of this involves offshore drilling. Canada is a secure source of supply (through pipelines), and is the USA's closest ally and best customer (buying more than Japan and China combined). The USA can buy more oil from Canada and sell more of everything else in return, as Canada has a huge appetite for US goods and services.

On terrorism, the absolute priority is to head off the detonation of a nuclear weapon in one of the USA's largest cities. There is no higher priority than this - nothing else comes remotely close. Obama has made a good start with the nuclear security summit, but really needs to pick up the pace in securing loose nuclear materials. He is doing the right thing here, but he needs a greater sense of urgency.

Al this is linked to energy. If solar becomes cheaper than "peaceful" nuclear power, then countries like Iran have no excuse in pursuing this technology - and neither does anyone else. So let's get going very quickly with the solar technology, or nuclear materials will be everywhere, and terrorists will get hold of them sooner or later. Anyone who thinks that we need more nuclear power is not thinking straight on the issue of nuclear terrorism. Think about it: would you rather see solar power plants or nuclear power plants all across the Middle East?

And let's not forget deterrence. Here, the USA needs a strategy which holds the source countries for nuclear materials absolutely accountable, with the assurance of huge retaliation if their materials are detonated in a US city. Backed up by improved "nuclear forensics", the deterrence strategy needs to say that there is no such thing as an accident, and that any nuclear detonation arising from theft or losing track of nuclear materials will be treated as a deliberate attack on the part of that country. That's one more reason for really picking up the pace on securing nuclear materials.

All these things are linked: energy, nuclear material, and terrorism.

We have to get this right, and we have to do it right now, with a true sense of urgency.

Posted by: John_D | May 7, 2010 1:12 PM
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This is another example of the government coming to rescue us from something of its own making. Let me see if I have your thesis correct: The masses, who have come to expect (and have, in many cases, been forced to accept) largess from an ever-growing Federal bureaucracy must now be protected from themselves? I'm a psychologist and this is like Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy, a condition in which someone induces illness in another person so that the perpetrator can place him/herself in a caretaker role. Problem is things usually work out better for the caretaker than the "patient." If I saw this going on in family therapy I would call it pathological and confront it. What should I do as a citizen when I see this going on at a national level? I'm convinced more firmly than ever that the most ominous phrase someone can hear is, "We're the government and we're here to help."

Posted by: RandFan | May 7, 2010 12:41 PM
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The Center for Responsive Politics ranks BP as one of the top donors to political campaigns over the twenty years having given in excess of $6 million to congressional and presidential campaigns. The ten biggest recipients of BP contributions still in Congress are Rep. Don Young ($73,300), Sen. John McCain ($44,899), Sen. George Voinovich ($41,400), Rep. John Dingell ($31,000), Sen. Mary Landrieu ($28,200), Rep. Joe Barton ($27,350), Sen. Jim Inhofe ($22,300), Sen. Mitch McConnell ($22,000), Rep. John Culberson ($20,950) and Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison ($19,500).

BP has focused a good portion of their campaign contributions on the House Committee on Energy & Commerce. The committee is scheduled to begin hearings on the Deepwater Horizon oil spill on Wednesday. Since 1989, BP has contributed a total of $195,550 to the current 51 members of the committee. Rep. Barton is the ranking member of the committee. Rep. Dingell is chairman emeritus and was recently deposed as chairman by Rep. Henry Waxman. Other top recipients include Rep. Ralph Hall ($14,500), Rep. Fred Upton ($13,100) and Rep. Roy Blunt ($12,500).

While BP made investments in Congress with their wide reach of contributions, some lawmakers made investments in BP. At least 17 lawmakers reported holding stock in BP in their most recent personal financial disclosure filings. Rep. James Sensenbrenner holds the largest amount of stock in BP with a value between $100,001 and $250,000. One member of the Energy & Commerce Committee, Rep. Upton, also holds stock in BP valued between $16,002 and $65,000.

The lobbying team assembled by BP also provides the company with reach into both Congress and executive branch. Twenty-five of the thirty-seven lobbyists listed in 2010 first quarter lobbying disclosures as being hired by BP have previous government experience. This includes two former top aides to Sen. Landrieu, a former aide to the Energy & Commerce Committee, former congressman Jim Turner and 15 others with congressional experience.

The former Energy & Commerce Committee staffer, Courtney Johnson, was listed as the host for two fundraisers over last year, according to the Party Time database. One was for Rep. Dingell, the former Energy & Commerce chairman. The other was for the political action committee of Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, a lawmaker close to Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

Prolific Democratic fundraiser Tony Podesta is listed as a lobbyist for BP. Podesta is listed as hosting eighteen fundraisers since the beginning of the 111th Congress.

Other congressman who have had held fundraisers hosted by lobbyists hired by BP since the beginning of 2009 include Rep. Walt Minnick, Sen. Jim Inhofe, Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (twice), Rep. Barbara Lee, Sen. John Thune, Rep. Kay Granger, Sen. Richard Burr, Rep. Glenn Nye (twice) and Rep. Dennis Moore.

Posted by: francinelast | May 7, 2010 12:33 PM
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Compliments to the investigators of the Time's Square Bomber.

However, I question whether this 'rousing success' is attributable to the investments made in resources.

The fact that the car bomber failed to detonate left a treasure trove of leads to follow. Had the car blown up as planned, the investigation most likely would have gone much slower...allowing the bomber to escape.

Supporters of the administration are claiming success because they caught the bomber AFTER the bombing FAILED. Had the bomb actually worked...would they claim success? The fact that an apparent jhihadist-trained bomber succeeded in setting a bomb in Times Square is a failure.

Posted by: Bsix | May 7, 2010 11:51 AM
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When JFK said we're going to the moon in 10 years, he pressed the technology of the era and the nation, yet that goal was achieved.
Our petroleum addiction is a much greater (and more dire) problem, but where are the leaders who will say that in 50 years we will run our vehicles and homes and economy with renewable-generated power? With intense conservation efforts, it is an achievable goal.
Instead, China is forging ahead with development of low-cost photovoltaics while we continue to try to postpone the inevitable with offshore drilling, and our oil addiction finances our mortal enemies.
Winning the space race revolutionized our education system down to the grade school level. We need the same effort now to create the engineers and materials scientists that are needed to achieve our national goals.
All we need is a goal.

Posted by: Butteoid | May 7, 2010 11:12 AM
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I hope some stimulus money was spent on the safety issues of deep sea drilling and nuclear power

Posted by: ypcchiu | May 7, 2010 10:48 AM
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I guess the University of Maryland doesn't hire the brightest bulbs...exactly how does dumb luck (in this bomb not going off) equate to "we nailed it cold"??

Posted by: john6644 | May 7, 2010 10:10 AM
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We don't need bigger Government - we need smarter Government!!
Who was in charge of approving the BP oil well??? Why didn't they ask -"What if you have a leak??? How will you fix it???"
If this sounds like Monday morning quarterbacking - refer to those things called "Impact Statements". We have to have one for our Septic Tanks!!!

Posted by: thornegp2626 | May 7, 2010 9:50 AM
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It's hard to name even one thing the US Government legislated that worked out correctly. Remember legislation does not include proclimations.
Concerning the recent *bomb* attempt. This bomb was never meant to explode.

But we did manage to aim machine guns and handcuff inocents on a bus that *could* have held a bomb. Wonder when this same scenario is played on an airplane full of *rich* passengers - if the cost to the taxpayers will be the same.

Posted by: Tony27 | May 7, 2010 9:25 AM
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Home land security had nothing to do with capturing this idiot. His stupidity, as most Islams are, is what got him caught. The fact that anyone buying a one way ticket for cash to a middle eastern country is suppose to be denied boarding until the no-fly list is verified. Home land security practiced nothing more then a Chinese fire drill with the most incompetent person in the lead.

Posted by: captain3292 | May 7, 2010 9:11 AM
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Dumb luck prevented the bomb from going off and the terrorist from flying out of the country NOT the Department of Homeland Expenditure I mean "Security".

Oil is a strategic commodity. Without it civilization is dead in the water. Every product made or grown in the world requires a petroleum product in either creating or transporting it. If having oil less expensive means risking an occasional spill so be it. It is much better than paying $3.50 a gallon and profiting Arabs and Russians.

Posted by: SSTK34 | May 7, 2010 8:13 AM
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Caution: Defensive Republicans responding. A free energy lunch is a bedrock plank in their platform (see "drill, baby, drill!").

Posted by: kimdave3 | May 7, 2010 8:07 AM
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Seriously, the bomber's bomb did not go off, and despite this incident, 24 hours later he was still able to buy one-way plane ticket with cash and no luggage! Should we praise the government or light a thank you candle to whoever up there saved our behinds?

Posted by: joebob2nd | May 7, 2010 8:07 AM
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I agree. Coming from someone who is supposedly "intelligent" and has written books, and has a "sophisticated title", apparently in no way determines the common sense that an individual possesses.
They "may" have caught the terrorist regardless, however, but for the ineptitude of the terrorist and no thanks to the government in any way this could have had a much worse outcome.

To be fair to the government though, there is no way that they can protect all of the people all of the time. Realistic people accept this. This adminsitration is too arrogant to ever admit to a mistake and sadly,the list of mistakes is long and growing.
Our government would do better to be prepared to step up the plate quickly, when needed (as it didn't do during Katrina or at the onset of the recent oil spill) as opposed to the need to control the mundane aspects of peoples lives.
Sorry you think so highly of yourself Donald. You don't make the grade on this one.

Posted by: tjmlrc | May 7, 2010 7:49 AM
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You fool no success other than bombers fortunate failure. This article is nonsense.

Posted by: joeortega4 | May 7, 2010 7:25 AM
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