Almost two weeks into the oil spill disaster in the Gulf, the feds have made a major change in their leadership team.
According to The New York Times, Coast Guard Commandant Admiral Thad Allen has been placed in overall charge of federal oil spill operations. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano announced the appointment over the weekend. Admiral Allen will oversee the efforts of Rear Admiral Mary Landry, who supervised the initial response.
Allen was widely praised for directing search-and-rescue efforts in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005. He was soon placed in charge of the entire federal response to that disaster. Admiral Allen became Commandant of the Coast Guard in 2006.
Perhaps Secretary Napolitano was in a hurry to find someone competent to run the operation. But her choice will actually create some administrative issues, since Allen is scheduled to retire from the service on May 25th.
So, we can safely assume that Admiral Allen won't retain his current title as Coast Guard Commandant. His new job is listed as National Incident Commander, but it's unclear where that lies in the bureaucratic pecking order. In fact, no one has specified if Admiral will remain on active duty as a Coast Guard Admiral in his new post, or revert to civilian status, as CIA Director Mike Hayden did after his retirement from the Air Force.
And, did we mention that the USCG is only authorized one four-star admiral in peacetime? With Allen's slated retirement, his successor (Vice Admiral Robert Papp) will pin on his fourth star.
Of course, these issues can be overcome, with an executive order or two. Allen will report to Janet Napolitano and his position will fall under the homeland security apparatus. We also assume that Admiral Allen is aware of the political liabilities associated with his position. As "Incident Commander," in a specially-created, one-of-a-kind position, Allen can become the designated fall guy if the operation goes awry, or the response proves insufficient.
There's little doubt that Thad Allen can get the job done. But he's already operating at a slight disadvantage. Despite administration claims of a federal presence since "Day One," the government response has actually been slow. There are also reports that needed containment equipment was not present on the Gulf Coast (despite standing requirements), and operational plans were implemented days late.
Admiral Allen will need every bit of his administrative and leadership skills to get this operation back on track.