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Officials blast lack of accountability in Gulf oil response

By the CNN Wire Staff
  • NEW: Mayor of Grand Isle, Louisiana, complains that nothing happens unless Obama visits
  • Federal and local officials say it's unclear who's heading response to the spill
  • Officials urge the creation of a clearer command-and-control system
  • Sen. Bill Nelson blasts lack of quick warning that oil entered Florida waters

Washington (CNN) -- Frustration with the response to the growing oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico boiled over Thursday as federal and local officials complained that it remains unclear who is in charge of the response.

Among other things, they urged the establishment of a clearer command-and-control system to accelerate the decision-making process and the creation of a more definitive chain of accountability.

The complaints, made during a key Senate subcommittee hearing, came one day after federal authorities ordered BP to come up with a contingency plan for collecting oil that is still gushing out of the ruptured well at the bottom of the Gulf.

"I still don't know who's in charge," said Billy Nungesser, president of Louisiana's Plaquemines Parish. "Is it BP? Is it the Coast Guard? ... I have spent more time fighting the officials of BP and the Coast Guard than fighting the oil." What is needed is someone "with the guts and the will to make decisions."

Nungesser asserted that the line of booms now deployed to keep oil off the Louisiana coast "is not working. ... It's a joke."

There is an "unresponsive regulatory process" and no "real unified command," said Mark Cooper, a homeland security official in the office of Gov. Bobby Jindal, R-Louisiana. "That's been part of the issue" since the April 20 oil rig explosion.

Over 100 linear miles of Louisiana coastline have now been affected by spill, he claimed.

Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Florida, repeated his call for the U.S. military to take a greater role in the response effort, arguing that it has the best command-and-control system in the world. He blasted federal officials for failing to alert local authorities that oil from the Gulf disaster has now entered Florida waters at Perdido Bay, near the Alabama border.

"The Coast Guard is doing a great job but they are stretched to the limit," Nelson told the committee. "We are livid that the command and control is not there. ... Communication is not coming to the state and local government."

"I don't care who's in charge," he added. But "I want somebody with some authority, and it can't be BP. ... The present system is not working. The information is not flowing. The decisions are not timely."

Other members of the subcommittee appeared to agree with Nelson, with each one painting a picture of bureaucratic incompetence and inaction in the midst of a steadily deteriorating situation.

We need to "move today to get somebody in charge down there," said. Sen. Roland Burris, D-Illinois.

If something's not getting done, "maybe we should put some BP executive in the oil until it's approved," Nevada GOP Sen. John Ensign suggested in jest.

"We can win this war," Nungesser said while asking for more federal help. "We can save our marsh. We can save our heritage." But "somebody on the ground ... has to be able to make decisions quickly."

Asked by CNN's Dana Bash whether he agrees with Nelson's call for the U.S. military to get more directly involved, Nungesser said, "It might be a good idea. Anything is better than what's going on now."

Nungesser, who previously called for the resignation of Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen, the federal government's point man for the spill, argued Obama should "put somebody locally down there in charge."

"He (would be) the decision maker. He takes the blame. He takes the credit. And he works with everybody to make this happen," Nungesser said.

David Camardelle, the mayor of Grand Isle, Louisiana, told CNN that when Obama visited the Gulf region last week, "it looked like he got things moving." But "since he left, it's like nothing else is going on."

The president is scheduled to return to the Gulf on Monday.

CNN's Alan Silverleib contributed to this report