Editorial: Contrary to popular myth, bureaucrats aren't the enemy

<p>BP’s oil spill in the Gulf Coast has prompted older stories of BP’s mismanagement to rise to the fore. The stories are of political favoritism involving the White House, Department of Justice and the EPA, all undermining the good work that was trying to be done by bureaucrats doing their job.</p><p>It turns the tables on the myth that career bureaucrats (those insidious purveyors of ‘Red Tape’ and the enemies of big business seeking less regulation) are the problem in Washington, and redirects that finger of blame to political favoritism — at least how it was practiced under the George W. Bush White House.</p><p>Jason Leopold, a reporter for the web site Truthout, a journalistic watchdog of national affairs, reports a mind-changing story about BP’s (British Petroleum’s) actions and the Bush administration’s manipulations in the prelude and aftermath of BP’s 2006 oil spill in Alaska, due to cost-cutting procedures and deferred maintenance on the oil pipeline from Prudhoe Bay to Valdez. The story is titled “How Bush’s DOJ killed a criminal probe into BP that threatened to net (or jail) top officials.”</p><p>Here’s a brief excerpt: </p><p>“They (the whistleblowers at BP) told me there was going to be a massive spill on the North Slope and I need to be ready,” said Scott West, a special agent with the Environmental Protection Agency’s criminal division, who had been probing alleged crimes committed by BP and the company’s senior officials in connection with a March 2006 pipeline rupture that spilled 267,000 gallons of crude oil across two acres of frozen tundra — the second largest oil spill in Alaska’s history. </p><p>“I had these guys telling me about conversations they had with mid-level managers and documents they turned in exposing the pipeline corrosion and leak detection equipment on pipes that failed and ignored because it went off all the time. The employees were slapped down. They were given a lot of grief for having raised these issues. The BP culture is to keep your mouth shut and your head down because nobody at BP wants to hear about it.</p><p>“That’s why I knew this was a criminal case,” West said. “BP turned a blind eye and deaf ear to their experts who predicted a major spill. It wasn’t an intentional act to put oil on the ground, but it was an intentional act to ignore their employees. That’s negligence and it’s criminal.”</p><p>The story tells how West pursued criminal action against BP for 18 months only to have the Bush White House shut down the investigation and settle with the lowest possible fine against BP and a misdemeanor charge. In short, the trial gave BP what West called “a slap on the wrist” for violations he said should have sent BP executives to jail. </p><p>History will suggest that the 2006 trial sent BP the message it needed (executive privilege) to keep cutting costs at its production sites to maximize profits and ignore safety and environmental regulations. It turned out to be the signal that helped set the stage for the disaster at its Gulf Coast oil rig four years later.</p><p>The story is important because it shows first-hand the influence bad government at the executive level has on government functions. It helps Americans understand that our government is susceptible to corruption and undue influence by big corporations and politicians acting on their behalf. It’s news not because we haven’t heard of such influence, but because this is so specific, so blatant and because its consequences have turned out to be so disastrous. </p><p>It is a case where if stricter regulations had been followed — if the laws of the land had just been allowed to proceed without undue political influence — this particular explosion that killed 11 employees and is on track to be the nation’s worst oil spill could have been prevented just by paying attention to routine maintenance and following industry guidelines and government regulations. </p><p>The fact that BP has been ignoring such procedures for years and getting away with it, should worry residents of all states that could be affected by coastal and interior spills. To better understand the BP oil spill and political influence, interested citizens can read the story at http://www.truthout.org/how-bushs-doj-killed-a-criminal-probe-into-bp-th.... Then share the story with others. The take-home message is simple enough: the culprits here are not government bureaucrats, but undue political influence that undermines the regulations we have in place.</p>

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