Mimsy Were the Borogoves

Editorials: Where I rant to the wall about politics. And sometimes the wall rants back.

Bureaucracy or conspiracy?

Jerry Stratton, June 18, 2010

Wherever there’s a disaster there are also conspiracy theorists. Sometimes they’re completely incomprehensible, such as when people claim that metal doesn’t melt. Now we’ve got people claiming that there’s a conspiracy either to cause the Deepwater Horizon oil spill or to prolong it. I noticed it first at the Ace of Spades HQ, where Ace is fighting a semi-losing battle1 to keep it off of his site.

But—while I don’t agree with them—I can understand where the Deepwater Horizon conspiracy theorists are coming from. Some of the decisions coming out of Washington are utterly incomprehensible. Can the federal government really be this incompetent?

  1. They turned down an offer by the Dutch government, well before the oil reached landfall, to bring in skimmers that could have kept the oil spill in check.
  2. At any point, the White House could issue a blanket Jones Act waiver, allowing foreign assistance from countries with more experience and/or more equipment—such as the Dutch. This is something we regularly do during an emergency. The White House has not done this.
  3. Companies that can make oil containment booms, sensing an obvious need, started doing so days after the spill. Louisiana alone needs five million feet of hard boom. Unfortunately, it’s the federal government that is responsible for managing the response, and the federal government is ignoring them.
  4. If British Petroleum is at fault, they are liable, with no limit to their liability. Rather than trying to determine if they’re liable, the White House is trying to push laws through ostensibly to remove the limit—a limit that probably doesn’t even exist! What are these laws really for?
  5. Because the federal government is legally in control during an oil spill, state governors have to ask for permission to take action.2 They haven’t been responding.
  6. Getting tired of the lack of response, Louisiana Governor Jindal sent in some oil cleaners on his own. That got a faster response: the Coast Guard blocked them.

It is very difficult to understand the mindset of the Coast Guard officer who took responsibility to block cleaning efforts or the EPA bureaucrat who took responsibility to deny the use of Dutch skimmers. Most people who don’t work in a bureaucracy don’t understand that for some bureaucrats form 27B/6 is all that matters, even as dark oil spreads onto vast shores behind you. Paperwork solves every problem… and if it doesn’t, it at least delays it until it isn’t their problem.

And it isn’t just faceless bureaucrats at fault here. The president himself could waive the Jones Act so that it’s easier for other countries to bring in assistance. We did it during both hurricanes Katrina and Rita, for example. Instead, the White House appears to be relying on bureaucrats to apply—or deny—waivers one by one.

Take another look at the Dutch skimmers. They offered us four of them a few days after the spill began. Four of them can skim out 146,000 barrels of oil a day. The high-end estimate of the leak is 60,000 barrels of oil a day. The Dutch made their offer long before any oil reached the beaches.

There are only two numbers that matter here. How many gallons of oil are pouring into the ocean. And how many gallons of oil we can clean from the ocean.

The federal government seems to be hell-bent on keeping the latter number as small as possible. From refusing help from Dutch oil skimmers with cleaning rate faster than the spill rate, to blocking the cleaners Governor Jindal ordered into the gulf, they don’t seem to have any concept that the point of this exercise is to clean the oil now.

Conspiracy or bureaucracy? I believe it’s a standard old-fashioned Terry Gilliam-style bureaucracy. It’s the inevitable result of pushing power upwards, away from the locals who care enough to get the job done. It’s why we like our first responders to be state or even more local officials. And why we don’t want the federal bureaucracy taking over other aspects of our personal lives, such as our health care. The inept response to this spill isn’t a conspiracy. It’s just the federal bureaucracy doing what it’s best at.

  1. Semi, because he runs the site and can ban them or put them into a conspiracy ghetto. Losing, because he seems to be trying to honestly reason with them.

  2. This, of course, is the opposite of a natural disaster such as Katrina, where the federal government needs permission from the state government to bring in the military to assist.

  1. <- No cap on British Petroleum
  2. The Crossdressing Congressman ->