Obama

There’s a lot of talk in the media about whether President Obama is sufficiently angry about the oil spill.

Who cares? There are many more important questions, including: How effectively is the government managing the response? Is it forcing BP to be transparent and honest with the public? Is it making sure that the cleanup effort is pursued effectively — and that workers are being treated fairly?

A report from Mother Jones reporter Mac McClelland raises serious concerns about all of these issues. Granted, McClelland’s source is an anonymous cleanup worker. But you can excuse her for depending on such a source, because BP, working with local law enforcement, barred her from entering oil-drenched Elmer’s Island and seeing for herself what was going on, and the company forced hundreds of cleanup workers to sign agreements barring them from speaking to the press — and told her source he’d be fired if he did.

Key takeaways from McClelland’s interview with a “mole,” who she has dubbed “Elmer” to protect his identity:

• Even though thousands of barrels of oil continue gushing into the Gulf daily, the cleanup effort has lost all urgency. “Workers have spent inordinate amounts of time sitting around waiting to be utilized, a frustration echoed by other workers who talked to friends of mine who were on a day trip to the beach,” McClelland writes.

• Workers aren’t being paid on time by this massive, highly profitable company. And “the mostly white foremen … told their mostly black subordinates that they didn’t want to hear any bitching about it [not being paid] and that if they had a problem they could go home,” McClelland writes. That factor, plus low pay (“as little as $10 an hour”), is leading to attrition. “Last week, there were 110 workers on Elmer’s Island. Right now, there are only 60 cleaning up the 1,700-acre home to fish, shrimp, and crab nurseries,” she writes. This, even though “there’s a LOT more oil out on the beach now” than last week, her source says.

• As for the honesty of BP’s public pronouncements, get this:

Elmer says that last Thursday, when the Coast Guard was announcing that the top kill seemed to be working, the cleanup supervisors on Grand Isle had already been informed it was a failure — which, of course, was not publicly announced until several days later.

If “Elmer” is correct, BP is brazenly lying to the public and letting the effort to protect the Gulf’s fragile wetlands slide. Obama has cancelled state trips to spend time at the Gulf. Rather than just photo ops and public displays of outrage, I hope he’s focused on establishing control of the spill response and imposing the kind of rigor and transparency that the effort so badly needs — and evidently is missing.