Lead, follow or get out of the way

Elizabeth Letchworth Former U.S. Senate Secretary
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“Lead, follow or get out of the way.” This quote by Thomas Paine is unfortunately starting to fit our current president and his administration all too well. Mr. Paine was an author, revolutionary and one of the Founding Fathers. The president might consider this famous quote in the coming weeks and months when it comes to the BP spill and how to handle the results and the future oil drilling in America in the aftermath of the April 20 explosion of the Deepwater Horizon rig.

This writer can’t let the lack of presidential leadership go without comment when it comes to accepting help from those in the know. At the end of May, almost six weeks after the initial explosion of the rig, we heard from State Department spokesman P. J. Crowley say: “As we understand what we need, and identify domestic and foreign sources, we will act.” This was said after the press learned that four weeks into the disaster, the president still saw no need to accept proposals from nations around the world offering skimmers, boom and other supplies and technical assistance. The States Department has confirmed that it has received aid offers from 17 countries and four international groups.

If not now, when? For a bit of history, former President George W. Bush accepted aid and foreign assistance within three days of hurricane Katrina hitting the gulf coast on Aug. 29, 2005. This was done by President Bush waiving the Jones Act. The Jones Act, which was passed in 1920, requires that all goods and people transported by water between United States ports be carried in American owned and flagged ships. President Bush directed Secretary Chertoff of the Homeland Security Department to issue a Jones Act waiver on Sept. 1, 2005. This waiver was needed so that the U.S. could receive gasoline, jet and diesel fuel and other petroleum products. The waiver allowed foreign-flagged ships to transport these products. The same was true when hurricane Rita hit again almost a month later. When that hurricane hit on the 24th of September in 2005, it took President Bush just two days to request the Homeland Security Secretary to waive the Jones act again. I don’t know about you, but this sounds like a president who was acting as a leader in the face of a disastrous situation.

By the end of May, the Obama administration finally accepted Mexico’s offer of two skimmers and almost 14,000 feet of boom. He also agreed to help from the Dutch who are offering the use of oil sweeping arms and eight skimming systems from Norway. This week the president put out a request from our friends at the European Union for oil clean-up equipment and accepted Canada’s offer to help with almost 10,000 feet of boom. Yet still no waiver of the Jones Act.

During a hearing before Congress this past Thursday, several Democratic members of House accused the Administration of turning its back on those on the gulf coast by refusing overseas cleanup help. During Friday’s session of the Senate, Sens. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas), George LeMieux (R-Fla.), and John Cornyn (R-Texas) joined together and introduced legislation that would temporarily waive the Jones Act to allow foreign marine vessels to assist with the oil cleanup effort in the Gulf of Mexico.

For an administration that seems to want to control so much of our economy and our day-to-day decisions, it puzzles this writer as to why the president won’t waive this act to accept well-intentioned help from around the world. If this president doesn’t want to lead, then please sir, get out of the way. There are four governors from the affected Gulf States and several United States senators that are ready to lead, and put this vital clean-up into gear. It is long overdue.

Elizabeth B. Letchworth is a retired, four-times-elected United States Senate Secretary for the Majority and Minority. She is the founder of GradeGov.com.