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BP Oil Spill: Is it time for the Pentagon to take over?

The BP oil spill relief effort lacks a clear command-and-control structure, senators said at a hearing Friday. Some suggest that greater Pentagon involvement would help.

By Staff writer / June 10, 2010

Sen. Bill Nelson (D) of Florida talks about the BP oil spill containment effort Sunday on the CBS show 'Face the Nation.'

Chris Usher/Face the Nation/AP


Should the Department of Defense take command of the response to the BP oil spill?

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Some federal lawmakers and local officials are continuing to push such a move to help overcome what they see as a tangled and ineffective spill cleanup command-and-control structure.

At a Senate hearing on Friday, Sen. Ben Nelson (D) of Florida expressed frustration with the state of the Gulf response task force, saying that in one 90-minute period last week, officials gave him three different estimates of the number of ships deployed off the Florida coast to block drifting oil patches.

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“The finest command-and-control capability in the world is the United States military,” said Sen. Bill Nelson (D) of Florida on Friday at a Senate hearing on the effects of the oil spill. “You have got to have somebody with a clear chain of command in charge.”

Local Gulf leaders at the hearing, held by a Senate Homeland Security Committee ad hoc panel, agreed that something needs to be done to streamline the response team’s decision-making process.

At the front lines of the spill fight, the information flow is haphazard and promised resources don’t always show up, they said.

“I still don’t know who’s in charge,” said Plaquemines [Louisiana] Parish President Billy Nungesser at the Friday hearing.

Right now it takes as long as five days to get a question to the National Incident Commander, Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen, said Mr. Nungesser. President Obama should appoint someone with “the authority and guts to make decisions,” he added.

Calls for the military to take charge of the spill fight have reverberated through the halls of Washington almost from the moment the Deepwater Horizon rig exploded and burned on April 20.

The Pentagon itself is not wild about the idea. The Defense Department to this point has rejected the notion that things would run more smoothly if it played bigger role in the Gulf.

In general, defense officials make three points in this regard: