The United States Coast Guard (USCG) core roles are "to protect the public, the environment, and U.S. economic and security interests". I have no doubts that the guys in the choppers and the swimmers in the water are true professionals with only the safety of the public in mind.
However, the apparently cozy relationship their higher-ups appear to have with BP's PR agency - O'Brien's Response Management - makes me wonder what their real priorities are. But I am getting ahead of myself. Let me give you a little background.
BP, like all good corporate behemoths, is not actually cleaning up the gulf. They have delegated that mission to a company called O'Brien's Response Management. O'Brien's is handling all the messy stuff by farming out the work to waste management contractors, bird nest stomping contractors, and let's not forget the "cover the oil on the beach with a layer of sand" contractors as well.
But wait! O'Brien's does much more than that. You see, O'Brien's definition of response management is more than just cleaning up after a catastrophe: it's about saving a company's reputation after said catastrophe. To quote their own website....
If that's not enough to convince you of where O'Brien's heart (if they had one) is ...then how about this one out of O'Brien's own internal newsletter:
"Media coverage and public interest is in a way like a giant eye or radar sweeping the overall landscape. When it lights on something of high interest such as this spill, anything related to the topic of the day becomes of additional interest for a time. That means any spill, any accident or incident involving tanker cargos or quantities of vessel fuel, will be incorporated into an overall theme of environmental risk from the use of oil. While we are aware that our clients for the most part place an extraordinary emphasis on safe and responsible operations, this heightened sensitivity represents a higher than normal risk of reputation damage. "
Ok, so they are about PR...nothing new here. Lots of companies do this. Where's the USCG tie in? Well, since you asked...
"The history of the O'Brien's name started back in the early 80's when founder Jim O'Brien retired as an officer with the United States Coast Guard. Jim formed his own company, O'Brien Oil Pollution Service, otherwise known as "OOPS", in Slidell, Louisiana."
(You gotta love the name OOPS. I mean, really")
Well Jim didn't stop there. Seems quite a few officers of O'Brien's Response Management are either ex-Coast Guard or ex-Navy (primarily media relations specialists). In fact they just recently hired yet another former Coast Guarder, Rear Admiral Steve Branham (former Coast Guard's Chief of Media Relations) as their Executive Vice President of Government Services.
Just to be fair, O'Brien's does not just have BP as a client. Other clients include: