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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.

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The military is already in charge. The Coast Guard is one of the armed forces of the US, they note, and should be held in the same high regard as the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marines. Mr. Allen, the National Incident Commander, must work with BP to marshal resources and get things done, and any such bifurcated effort is likely to produce some dissatisfied customers, officials note.

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The Guard and Reserve are heavily involved in the Gulf. Hundreds of reservists and state National Guard troops are laying booms, flying helicopters, and otherwise contributing front-line manpower to the fight against the spreading oil. Two C-130s from an Ohio reserve unit have been converted to allow them to spray dispersant on oil-slicked waters, for instance. The Louisiana state Guard this week finished sandbagging eight breaches on Pelican Island in Plaquemines Parish, and installed six miles of a shoreline protection system near Venice, Louisiana.

BP knows more about oil than the Navy does. The military has lots of equipment, but it is oriented toward combat, not clean-ups. The US Army and Navy have little in the way of specialized knowledge that would add anything to the fight to stop the spill, said the nation’s top officer on May 31.

“We’ve looked at that continuously since the leak started, whether or not we would have submersibles that could go do this,” said Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. “And the fact is the best technology in the world with respect to that exists in the oil industry.”

Proponents of a larger military role say it is not just the Pentagon’s material resources, but its attitude, that’s needed. What’s lacking in the Gulf now is a hierarchy that takes orders and executes them and processes information quickly and efficiently.

“Whether the Coast Guard should stand down for the Navy and the Army, I don’t know . . . but the command structure is broken,” said Sen. Mary Landrieu (D) of Louisiana on Friday.

IN PICTURES: The Gulf oil spill's impact on nature


Editor's note: The photo caption on an earlier version of this story got Sen. Bill Nelson's first name wrong.