Last night, some fresh comments by Obama Administration officials confirmed its cynicism and duplicity in its Ministry of Truth version of health care reform. It’s one thing to suspect Team Obama was playing the public for a fool, quite another to have proof.
Today we have more corroboration of Obama Administration double dealing, this on the Gulf Oil leak. Recall that the executive branch was initially very slow to respond, and seemed content to buy BP’s PR on the size of the oil flow and let it take care of its own mess, despite the proximity of the well to important fishing grounds. Then as it became undeniable that the leak was serious and BP was not going to be able to halt it quickly, the Administration swung into “get tough” mode, or at least as tough as this crowd can get, which means not very. We decried the Administration negotiating with BP as an equal, and the lousy deal it cut. This looked to be classic Obama behavior redux: pretend to be aligned with the little guy, engage in some theatrics that manages to reveal unwillingness to draw on the power of the Presidential office, and cut way too generous a deal with big corporate interest.
One of the revealing parts of where Obama’s true priorities lay was in his keeping informed third parties, most important scientists, as far away from the scene of the crime as possible. Having good estimates of the size of the outflow would be critical in assessing the true cost of the disaster; not obtaining them was a sign, at best, of wildly misguided priorities (putting PR concerns over results) and at worst, a cynical belief that the Administration’s interest were not all that different from BP’s.
The fact that the Administration was keeping scientists at bay during acute phase of the oil spill was hardly secret (see here, here, here and here for a small sampling of our reports on this aspect of the leak). But having official confirmation underscores some of the glaring weaknesses of the executive team, in particular, lack of competence and resolve.
From the Associated Press (hat tip reader Doc Holiday):
The Obama administration blocked efforts by government scientists to tell the public just how bad the Gulf oil spill could become and committed other missteps that raised questions about its competence and candor during the crisis, according to a commission appointed by the president to investigate the disaster….
Among other things, the report says, the administration made erroneous early estimates of the spill’s size, and President Barack Obama’s senior energy adviser went on national TV and mischaracterized a government analysis by saying it showed most of the oil was “gone.” The analysis actually said it could still be there…
Citing interviews with government officials, the report reveals that in late April or early May, the White House budget office denied a request from NOAA to make public its worst-case estimate of how much oil could spew from the blown-out well. The Unified Command — the government team in charge of the spill response — also was discussing the possibility of making the numbers public, the report says.
The report shows “the political process was in charge and science really does not have the role that was touted,” said Christopher D’Elia, dean of environmental studies at Louisiana State University.
The AP story then has a section that is a meandering and easy to misconstrue. Basically, the OMB said it had doubts about the NOAA’s models (with all due respect, I have a pretty strong hunch the math and modeling skills at NOAA trump those of the OMB by a pretty large margin) and it made suggestions that the NOAA allegedly “happily accepted.” Ahem, this sounds like a bureaucratic coverup. And at the very end, it gets to the bottom line, many members of the scientific community disagreed with the NOAA:
Florida State University professor Ian MacDonald, who has repeatedly clashed with NOAA and the Coast Guard over the size of the spill, the existence of underwater plumes and oil in the sea floor, said he felt gratified by the report.
From the beginning, there was “a contradiction between discoveries and concerns by academic scientists and statements by NOAA,” MacDonald said in an interview with the AP at the oil spill conference.
And he said it is still going on. MacDonald and Georgia Tech scientist Joseph Montoya said NOAA is at it again with statements saying there is no oil in ocean floor sediments. A University of Georgia science cruise, which Montoya was on, found ample evidence of oil on the Gulf floor.
The Guardian has a more straightforward account, “Gulf oil spill: White House blocked and put spin on scientists’ warnings” (hat tip reader emca; this is an interesting testament to reporting disparity). For instance:
The White House blocked government scientists from warning the American public of the potential environmental disaster caused by BP’s broken well in the Gulf of Mexico, a report released by the national commission investigating the oil spill said yesterday…..
The report amplifies scathing criticism last week by the commission’s co-chairs, Bob Graham and William Reilly, of the Obama administration’s handling of the disaster.
It goes on to catalogue other lapses by the administration, including repeated underestimates of the size of the spill, and downplaying the environmental damage after the BP well was capped.
The report found particular fault with the White House energy adviser, Carol Browner, who appeared on television on 4 August and said: “The vast majority of oil was gone.”
It said Browner was overstating the findings of a NOAA analysis of the fate of the oil.
“By initially underestimating the amount of oil flow and then, at the end of the summer, appearing to underestimate the amount of oil remaining in the Gulf, the federal government created the impression that it was either not fully competent to handle the spill or not fully candid with the American people about the scope of the problem,” the report said.
An old saying is “Truth is the first casualty of war.” By this standard, the Obama Administration is in combat mode with the American public.