Obama creates oil spill panel, orders it to find out 'what worked and what didn't' in response

By Michael D. Shear
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, May 22, 2010; 6:00 AM

One month to the day after the BP oil rig disaster, President Obama used his radio address Saturday to announce the formation of a high-level commission to investigate the causes of the environmental damage and what the federal government did wrong.

Like the commission established after the Challenger space shuttle accident, Obama's commission will be given the authority to examine every aspect of federal oversight, with the mission of finding out where regulations or rules are too lax, he said.

"If the laws on our books are inadequate to prevent such an oil spill, or if we didn't enforce those laws -- I want to know it," Obama said in his weekly address. "I want to know what worked and what didn't work in our response to the disaster, and where oversight of the oil and gas industry broke down."

The president said in the address that he will appoint former Florida governor Bob Graham (D) and William K. Reilly (R), a former EPA administrator, to head the commission, a move that he said will ensure the panel gets to the bottom of the incident.

The move was hailed by members of Congress and activists, who said the magnitude of the environmental damage required a presidentially mandated investigation.

"Thanks to the president's leadership, the commission will ensure that our scrutiny matches the depth and breadth of this human, economic and environmental disaster," said Rep. Lois Capps (D-Calif.), who first proposed the establishment of such a body. "This independent commission will guarantee a transparent and accountable investigation so the public can have complete trust in the integrity of its findings."

Frances Beinecke, the president of the Natural Resources Defense Council, said, "The work of a fully independent commission is our best hope of finding out what caused this disaster and what we can do to make sure nothing like this ever happens again. The president has selected two knowledgeable and fair-minded leaders to head this bipartisan commission."

The response of the Obama administration to the disaster has come under increased scrutiny as the impact of the still-leaking oil well has grown. Some lawmakers have shifted the focus away from the immediate response to questions about the government's role in failing to prevent such a catastrophe in the first place.

Obama himself has seemed to get increasingly frustrated with the pace of the cleanup and the excuses that are often trotted out to explain why oil is still gushing from the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico.

"Even as we continue to hold BP accountable, we also need to hold Washington accountable," the presidentsaid in the address. "Now, this catastrophe is unprecedented in its nature, and it presents a host of new challenges we are working to address. But the question is, what lessons we can learn from this disaster to make sure it never happens again."

Obama said he will appoint five other members to the commission and will expect them to report back within six months.

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