Case #1981.0

The Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill: The Politics of Crisis Response (A)

Publication Date: February 25, 2013
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Following the sinking of the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig in late April 2010, the Obama administration organized a massive response operation to contain the enormous amount of oil spreading across the Gulf of Mexico. Attracting intense public attention and, eventually, widespread criticism, the response adhered to the Oil Pollution Act of 1990, a federal law that the crisis would soon reveal was not well understood--or even accepted--by all relevant parties. This two-part case profiles the efforts of senior officials from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security as they struggled to coordinate the actions of a myriad of actors, ranging from numerous federal partners (including key members of the Obama White House); the political leadership of the affected Gulf States and sub-state jurisdictions; and the private sector. Case A provides an overview of the disaster and early response; discusses the formation of the National Incident Command (NIC), which had responsibility for directing response activities; and explores the NIC's efforts to coordinate the actions of various federal entities. Case B focuses on the challenges the NIC encountered as it sought to engage with state and local actors--an effort that would grow increasingly complicated as the crisis deepened throughout the spring and summer of 2010.

Learning Objective:
This case highlights how officials from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security handled the complex political dynamics associated with the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. It prompts students of public administration and management to think about the difficulties of navigating intergovernmental and interagency relations and asks them to consider how public officials can facilitate the involvement of political leaders representing different constituencies and competing interests during major crises.

Other Details

Case Author:
David Giles
Faculty Lead:
Herman (Dutch) B. Leonard and Arnold Howitt
Pages (incl. exhibits):
United States