White House commission wades into “Deep Water”

January 11, 2011

OILSPILL-BP/COMMISSIONThe great thing about presidential commissions is that they can soberly consider complicated matters and then offer unvarnished reports on what to do. The tough part is when that information rockets around Washington, as occurred after a White House commission issued its final report on the BP disaster in the Gulf of Mexico.

The “Deep Water” report, apparently titled in reference to the doomed BP Deepwater Horizon rig, blames the deadly blowout and oil spill on government and industry complacency, and recommends more regulation of offshore drilling and a new independent safety agency. But as my colleague Ayesha Rascoe reports, the commission lacks the authority to establish drilling policies or punish companies.

Within minutes of the report’s release, and even as commission co-chair William Reilly was bragging about bringing the report in on time and under budget, interest groups started the PR barrage, with industry critical and environmental outfits largely complimentary. Two Democratic members of Congress said they’d introduce legislation to implement the commission’s recommendations.

Will that legislation go anywhere? Industry analysts are doubtful. To get an idea of how much action can be prompted by White House panels, it’s useful to take a look at two previous ones.

OILSPILL-BP/COMMISSIONThe 911 Commission (formally called “The National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States”) was perhaps the ultimate in gracefully delivering its hard findings: “… on that September day we were unprepared.  We did not grasp the magnitude of a threat that had been gathering over time. As we detail in our report, this was a failure of policy, management, capability, and – above all – a failure of imagination.”

Many of the 911 Commission’s recommendations were acted upon.

But not all presidential panels’ reports make such an impact. In case you missed it, the Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues released its report on December 16.

Photo credits: REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque (National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling co-chair William Reilly at a presentation the commission’s final report in Washington January 11, 2011)

REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque (A journalist reaches for a copy of the report by the National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling in Washington January 11, 2011)

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