The president’s political roots harken back to Chicago, so he knows the lesson of the 1979 snowstorm that was the beginning of the end for Mayor Michael Bilandic. He also knows that culpability is rarely the issue in politics. As any street-level Chicago hood will tell you, the most important thing is to make sure that you always have someone to rat on if you are unlucky enough to get caught. The problem is, the higher you rise and the more responsibility you assume, the more difficult it becomes to find a suitable fall guy.
Given ongoing federal sloth and BP’s focus on salvaging its public image, Bobby Jindal wisely decided to build his own oil barriers. The Obama administration is doing its best to brush off unavoidable comparisons to Katrina, but sooner or later another “Brownie” will emerge as a poster child for federal incompetence.
Minerals Management Service might be a good place to start searching for the next Brownie, as it will certainly assume the role of FEMA in this ongoing federal drama. Reports of improprieties at MMS have circulated for years, with MMS employees demonstrating a similar level of dedication as the porn-crazed staffers at the SEC.
An August 2008 Inspector General’s report on MMS documents alcohol and drug abuse, and sexual liaisons between MMS employees and oil industry representatives. The cover memo to the report cites “A Culture of Ethical Failure,” and goes on to detail industry-sponsored perks for MMS officials that go back to 2002, including a BP-sponsored desert “treasure hunt.” The $5.3 million, taxpayer-funded investigation into MMS concludes: “Finally, our investigation revealed an organizational culture lacking acceptance of government ethical standards, inappropriate personal behaviors, and a program without the necessary internal controls to prevent future unethical or unlawful behavior.” 
This new disaster is not President Obama’s fault. He is responsible for the Federal Government’s inability to deal with the crisis, and also for his ongoing manipulation of Washington’s failings to serve his personal legislative agenda. The president has highlighted deficiencies in our “broken” health care, financial services, and immigration systems, using these presidentially-proclaimed defects as reform mandates while ignoring the obvious fact that what needs to be fixed is our reliably useless Federal Government. The BP leak might never have happened had MMS simply done the job that taxpayers paid for.
Does President Obama deserve to wear this one? There is plenty of blame to go around, most of it shared between BP and the federal employees hired to prevent this sort of thing. The president is certainly guilty, but his guilt lies not with Deepwater Horizon. Rather, he is guilty of advocating for and extending the reach of an irretrievably inept bureaucracy that consistently fails to deliver what taxpayers are promised. Deepwater Horizon will be another excuse for regulation and reform, even while Louisiana’s coastal economy descends into the toilet.
1.. U.S Dept. of the Interior, Office of Inspector General. Investigative Report: MMS Oil Marketing Group – Lakewood. August 19, 2008. p. 1.