A report prepared by investigators with the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform for Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., detailed one case in which the Dutch government offered April 30 to provide four oil skimmers that collectively could process more than 6 million gallons of oily water a day. It took seven weeks for the U.S. to approve the offer.
White House spokesman Robert Gibbs on Thursday scorned the idea that "somehow it took the command 70 days to accept international help."
"That is a myth," he declared, "that has been debunked literally hundreds of times."
He said 24 foreign vessels were operating in the Gulf before this week. He did not specifically address the Dutch vessels.
Billy Nungesser, president of Louisiana's hard-hit Plaquemines Parish, said BP and the Coast Guard provided a map of the exact locations of 140 skimmers that were supposedly cleaning up the oil. But he said that after he repeatedly asked to be flown over the area so he could see them at work, officials told him only 31 skimmers were on the job.
"I'm trying to work with these guys," he said. "But everything they're giving me is a wish list, not what's actually out there."
A BP spokesman declined to comment.
Newly retired Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen, the government's point man for the response effort, bristled at some of the accusations in Issa's report.
"I think we've been pretty transparent throughout this," Allen said at the White House. He disputed any suggestion that there aren't enough skimmers being put on the water, saying the spill area is so big that there are bound to be areas with no vessels.
The Coast Guard said there are roughly 550 skimmers working in the Gulf, with 250 or so in Louisiana waters, 136 in Florida, 87 in Alabama and 76 in Mississippi, although stormy weather in recent days has kept the many of the vessels from working.
The frustration extends to the volunteers who have offered to clean beaches and wetlands. More than 20,000 volunteers have signed up to help in Florida, Alabama and Mississippi, yet fewer than one in six has received an assignment or the training required to take part in some chores, according to BP.
There doesn't even seem to be a consensus about how many skimmers are out there, whether forgein or domestic, how long they've been out there, etc. There seems to be too much bureaucratic red tape holding things up and slowing things down. It's the President's job to cut through the red tape and allow whatever is needed to be done to be done in a timely fashion, and to have the Coast Guard, Corps of Engineers and the local governments working together instead of at cross-purposes.