One of the powerful effects of Congressional hearings is to give those who are part of the company or industry under scrutiny a chance to really see who they work for and with. For the most part we all know of things that are done in our work place that make us vaguely uncomfortable. Most of the time we just shrug and think "I can't really do anything to change this, and if I speak up too much I could lose my job" and go on, hoping that our small acts of cowardice don't result in disaster.
There is a significant amount of loyalty which flows to the people that employ you, even if you are pretty sure they don't deserve it. However it is one thing to let the day to day stuff go by in the name of keeping your job but it is quite another to see the executives of your company lying or dodging question after question on national TV. It is this kind of exposure that brings out the whistleblowers who can no longer take the hypocrisy or who want to protect themselves from liability for their part in whatever is being investigated.
We saw this pattern during the investigation of the tobacco industry in the early 1990's. The testimony by tobacco executives that their product was not addictive and they did not have any evidence that it was started the unraveling of the wall of silence and false science that they had built to protect their industry. Whistleblowers started to leak internal documents and finally come forward to dispute the testimony. We are starting to see the same with BP.
What looked like three way finger pointing in the early hearings by BP, Transocean and Halliburton has turned out to be BP trying to shift the blame from its shoulders to the others involved in the drilling project. As testimony from workers on the rig emerged it became clear that BP was calling the shots on Deepwater Horizon and they were ignoring and overriding the advice from their contractors. It is a rare day that Halliburton is anything but a symbol of greed over all else, but here it seems they were not the ones pushing for the quick buck at the cost of safety.
We have also seen the first of the whistleblowers come forward with evidence that there are similar issues of safety on BP's Atlantis rig and potentially others. Ken Abbott says that he was fired for bringing up the issue of incomplete engineering drawings. Part of the problem with the initial response on Deepwater Horizon was due to the fact that the drawings of the blow out preventer were not up to date. Without knowing exactly how a device like that is configured it is nearly impossible to take effect steps to shut down a run away well.
Today the BBC is reporting that Tyrone Benton, a worker on the Deepwater Horizon rig, reported the failure of the control systems on the BOP weeks before the explosion. The control was switched to a secondary system, but Mr. Benton does not know if it was turned back on before the disaster, but he is fairly sure that it was not replaced. Why? The same reason everything was done on Deepwater Horizon, cost. It would have required the shut down of drilling to replace the control pod, which would have cost about half a million dollars a day.
Other companies who are part of the partnership for the Deepwater Horizon well are also starting to distance themselves from BP. Anadarko Petroleum Corp. owns 25% of the lease is releasing statements calling BP's actions reckless and negligent. After the extensive back and forth on Thursday between BP CEO Tony Hayward and Rep. Cliff Sterns (R-FL) asking in cross-examination fashion if BP was reckless it seems that at least one BP partner is willing to take up that call.
This is where Congressional hearing work. They put witnesses on public record with statements that can then be either supported or refuted with evidence. As this investigation continues there will be more and more on the record statements by BP that its employees and partners will not want to be part of. They will start to come forward and more of the truth about this rogue company will be revealed. Lying to Congress is a crime and it seems that BP's strategy of dodge and prevaricate is one that might land them in deeper criminal trouble than they already face.
The work of Congress is more than making speeches and sticking it to the other party; it is the governance of the nation and oversight both of the government agencies and business. The Founders never intended this nation to have a hands off government when it came to issues that affect the nation as a whole. In this age of enormous corporations that job is more important than ever. Here is hoping that a little taste of success with BP leads our elected officials to act in similar ways on other industries, particularly banks in the future.
The floor is yours.