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With oil spill, White House struggles to assert control of the unknown

Cleanup and containment efforts continue at the Gulf of Mexico site of the oil spill following the Deepwater Horizon explosion.

"This is our most important issue right now. I mean, oil on the ground is almost secondary," said Lafourche Parish President Charlotte Randolph. "This is the entire region's future. It's that significant, that we can't spend a moment on anything else."

Some area officials say the administration is doing a better job of delivering resources to help protect and clean up the Gulf Coast shore. "I think they've finally realized this needs to be a major federal response, so they're ramping that up," Vitter said.

It might also help that the administration is sending as its emissaries officials who have ties to the region, including EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson, a New Orleans native, and Tom Strickland, the Louisiana State University-educated chief of staff to Interior Secretary Ken Salazar. At the request of Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal (R), the White House has also assigned each parish president in Louisiana a personal Coast Guard liaison.

White House officials complain, with some justification, that they are caught between contradictory narratives about their handling of the crisis: that the president is not engaged enough in the details of the response, or that he is getting bogged down in them; that he should spend more time in the gulf making common cause with its residents, or that his repeated trips down there are merely publicity stunts.

And there remains the question of whether, for all its efforts, the administration can really gain control, or even the illusion of it. BP did indeed shear the riser and put the cap on it as planned. But days later, everyone at the White House was still waiting to see if it had succeeded. And how would they know? When they got the word from BP.

Staff writers Michael D. Shear and David A. Fahrenthold contributed to this report.

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