National spill commander dismisses more federal control over Gulf response

Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen, the national incident commander tasked with overseeing the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, said Monday he would recommend against more federal control over the disaster response.

Allen, responding to criticisms from many who question whether the federal government is doing enough, said that he is satisfied with the amount of coordination between the U.S. government and BP.

He characterized the recent suggestion by Interior Secretary Ken Salazar — that the government usher BP out of the way if its response is inadequate — as a "metaphor" and an expression of frustration shared by the federal officials.

"To push BP out of the way would raise the question: 'Replace them with what?'" Allen told reporters during a White House briefing. "I'm the National Incident Commander, and right now the relationship with BP is the way I think we should move forward."

Allen, who will retire as head of the Coast Guard Tuesday but continue in his role overseeing the spill and cleanup, said BP has access to the tools and equipment necessary to cap the leaking well. The well has been spewing oil into the sea for more than a month. 

Still, administration officials seem divided over what, if any, additional role the government could play in the Gulf, with some, like Salazar, suggesting the administration could go further in federalizing the response.

"I'm not a lawyer," Allen said. "That may be true, but that would not be my recommendation."

Asked why it is taking so long to cap the well, Allen said: "It is very difficult. It's 5,000 feet below the surface, and it has never been done before."

BP and administration officials have noted that it will take until August to get a relief well in place as a permanent solution.

But Allen said Monday that "we don't want to wait that long."

A BP source said in an e-mail that the company is doing everything that it can, and it is grateful to Obama and his administration for "the sense of urgency, authority and focus that the President and his administration continue to bring to their oversight roles."

"We share the president's and the American people's frustration at the pace of progress," the source said. "BP is doing everything it can with the best scientists and engineers from the government and around the world to stop this leak. President Obama's leadership with the federal response has been most appreciated by BP and our employees."