Case #2265.0

Valerie Jarrett and the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill Response

Publication Date: August 9, 2023
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On April 20, 2010, Valerie Jarrett, Senior Advisor and Assistant to the President for Intergovernmental Affairs and Public Engagement, was sitting in her office in the West Wing. The split screens on her muted television in her office were, as usual, tuned to news channels to scan for breaking news. She looked up at the breaking news scroll and saw what appeared to be an oil rig fire. “I immediately called in my Chief of Staff and asked him to find out the details. Because if it was in America, it was going to become our problem,” said Jarrett. She soon learned that a powerful explosion had rocked the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig, located about 40 miles off the coast of Louisiana. The rig was on fire and more than a dozen workers were unaccounted for after the blast. While the Coast Guard assumed the task of coordinating the emergency response, President Obama called on Jarrett to directly manage the political response. The case goes on to describe Jarrett’s leadership actions—specifically, the measures she took to manage the White House’s relationship with the governors of the five states affected by the spill, from the date of the explosion through the event’s conclusion.

The HKS Case Program has published two cases about the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, which include some of the same protagonists, but look at the crisis from different vantage points. For example, this case focuses on federal leadership, specifically that of Valerie Jarrett. This case may serve as a complementary learning tool alongside cases 1981.0 and 1982.0 ("The Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill: The Politics of Crisis Response (A) and (B)," by David W. Giles for Arnold M. Howitt and Herman B. “Dutch” Leonard) which analyze the crisis from the vantage point of officials in the Department of Homeland Security.

Learning Objectives:
Students will learn:
1. How to evaluate their strategic choices when faced with a leadership challenge.
2. The importance of being able to demonstrate empathy by seeing the perspective of those with whom you deeply disagree.
3. How to remain focused on problem solving in the face of a complicated or fast moving crisis or challenge.
4. The value of building broad-based trust to advance a negotiation or solve a problem.
5. The challenges and opportunities that come with leading on behalf of others, as an agent.

Other Details

Teaching Plan:
Available with Educator Access
Case Author:
Laura Winig
Faculty Lead:
Kimberlyn Leary and Robert Wilkinson
Pages (incl. exhibits):
United States