WASHINGTON — The Obama administration blocked efforts by government scientists to tell the public just how bad the Gulf oil spill could become and made other missteps that raised questions about its competence and candor during the crisis, according to a commission appointed by the president to investigate the disaster.
In documents released Wednesday, the national oil spill commission’s staff describes “not an incidental public relations problem” by the White House in the wake of the April 20 accident.
Among other things, the report says, the administration made erroneous early estimates of the spill’s size, and President Barack Obama’s senior energy adviser went on national TV and mischaracterized a government analysis by saying it showed most of the oil was “gone.” The analysis actually said it could still be there.
“By initially underestimating the amount of oil flow and then, at the end of the summer, appearing to underestimate the amount of oil remaining in the Gulf, the federal government created the impression that it was either not fully competent to handle the spill or not fully candid with the American people about the scope of the problem,” the report says.
The administration disputed the commission findings, saying senior government officials “were clear with the public what the worst-case flow rate could be.”
In a statement Wednesday, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration chief Jane Lubchenco and White House budget director Jeffrey Zients pointed out that in early May, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen told the public that the worst-case scenario could be more than 100,000 barrels a day, or 4.2 million gallons.