Questions for the Co-Chairmen of the Joint Coast Guard - Minerals Management Service Investigation Team
The Gulf oil spill may have been contained, but the fallout from the Obama administration's subsequent conduct continues to raise eyebrows.
Jonathan Tilove of the New Orleans Times-Picayune reports that under pressure, Michael Bromwich of the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement (BOEMRE) will now allow the co-chairmen of the USCG-MMS Joint Investigation Team (JIT), Coast Guard Capt. Hung Nguyen and Mr. David Dykes of the MMS, to testify tomorrow before the House Natural Resources Committee under its new Republican chairman, Rep. Doc Hastings. This is the first time government investigators will be required to testify before a committee not under the control of the Democrats.
The importance of this development is that it will be a major step toward providing the Parties-in-Interest (PIIs) their rights under the Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution. The relevant clause is "to be confronted with the witnesses against him." Even such unpopular defendants as O.J. Simpson and Casey Anthony were afforded the right to cross-examine Mark Fuhrman and Yuri Melich, respectively. This is a chance for the committee to do what the PIIs have been denied: cross-examine the government witnesses. After all, elections have consequences.
Those who followed the hearings conducted by the JIT are aware of the disorder that existed in the early sessions. The situation got so bad that Capt. Nyugen was relegated to a supporting role as retired federal Judge Wayne Andersen was brought in to conduct the hearings. Subsequently, Capt. Nyugen was afforded the privilege of being the first questioner of each witness appearing before the JIT. Mr. Dykes went next, followed by a whole string of board members and the PIIs in turn. (To the co-chairmen's credit, during the JIT hearings, the PIIs were allowed to cross-examine the witnesses who were required to appear. The witnesses were predominantly from among the crew of the Deepwater Horizon and the shore teams and management of BP and its contractors. Few government witnesses were called, and those who were acted during the first response, before the creation of the National Incident Command.)
One criticism of Capt Nguyen was that he lacked the skills to conduct an effective hearing. So the first question Rep. Hastings ought to ask him is whether he thinks the decision to install Judge Andersen to act in his stead was appropriate.
The next big issue with Capt. Nguyen was his seeming inability to grasp the dual command structure aboard the Deepwater Horizon, where the Transocean captain was in overall command of the vessel until such time as it became attached to the wellhead. At that point, command switched to the BP offshore installation manager (AKA the company man). This became quite an issue when during the well control operations and subsequent abandonment of the vessel.
The question to ask Capt. Nguyen is whether he has ever commanded a Coast Guard vessel large enough to require the services of a harbor pilot to enter or leave harbor. Does he now grasp the analogy between that situation and the one aboard the Deepwater Horizon? One could also ask his co-chairman Mr. David Dykes whether he is sufficiently informed to offer a non-professional opinion on the change of command process between a pilot in charge and an air traffic controller when an aircraft enters the controlled space around an airport. Would he agree that the pilot becomes obligated to follow the commands of the controller unless something happens which requires the pilot to reassert command to ensure the safe operation of the plane -- for example, a missed approach? This point wasted a huge amount of the JIT's time and reflects very poorly on the competence and conduct of their investigation.
Both men need to be questioned about the extent of their investigations. Following their charging instructions, they limited their investigation into the accident to the time frame leading up to the blowout and the subsequent evacuation. Ask them to confirm that they did not investigate the operation of the National Incident Command (NIC) under Adm. Thad Allen. There have been other investigations of the NIC, but one glaring omission in all of them is the lack of a detailed accounting of the time frame from when Adm. Allen assumed the role of National Incident Commander up to June 1, 2010. This is a critical period during which the actions of Adm. Allen and his superiors in the Obama administration, presumably up to the president himself and including the secretaries of the interior, homeland security, and energy played a critical role in the outcome. Those key decisions included the drilling moratorium instituted by Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar against the recommendation of an expert panel assembled by the National Academy of Engineers and the premature termination of the "Top Kill" operation by Sec. Steven Chu.
The near simultaneity of those two actions, along with the announcement by Adm. Allen in late May that the flow of hydrocarbons into the Gulf had stopped, demands further explanation. To be fair to Capt. Nguyen and Mr. Dykes, those actions were outside the JIT's area of responsibility and must be pursued elsewhere, but the co-chairmen can confirm that they did not investigate that period. The huge gap in the flow of information to the public during this time frame dwarfs the gap in Rose Mary Woods' tape recordings, which was enough to bring down former President Richard Nixon.
Senator Howard Baker's classic question should be asked of administration policymakers, up to and including the president: "What did [s]he know and when did [s]he know it?" Based on documents produced for the president's Oil Spill Commission by its own consultants there exists good reason to believe that the "Gulf Oil Spill Could Have Been Stopped 48 Days Earlier," as reported in The American Thinker on March 4, 2011. If so, there needs to much more accountability on the part of the administration!
Given the kangaroo court nature of several prior congressional hearings, it is also desirable to get the two co-chairmen on the record under oath regarding two points. Have them quote directly from the JIT report their conclusions relative to the reduced number of centralizers used by BP against the recommendation of Halliburton, and their choice of a "long string" well design instead of a "liner and tieback." Be ready for the outrage of the Democratic members of the committee who conducted those prior hearings at having their opinions exposed to informed public scrutiny based on the forensic examinations of the well as reported in both the Det Norsk Veritas (DNV) report regarding the condition of the blowout preventer (BOP) and the report of the chief counsel to the president's Oil Spill Commission. The chief counsel's report was issued subsequent to the testimony of that commission's two co-chairmen before the Congress, as was the DNV report. As such, neither has been subjected to prior congressional oversight.
There are excellent reasons the Constitution provides for three coequal branches of government. Now that one half of the legislative branch has been wrested from Democratic Party hegemony by the elections of November 2010, we are likely to see a much more impartial inquiry into the both the causes of the Deepwater Horizon accident and the actions of the Obama administration during the operations to "plug the damn hole."
Be prepared for fireworks!