Perhaps the White House read my article yesterday, or maybe they’re getting a clue from the general outrage growing? President Obama has finally decided that it might be a good idea to talk with BP executives, including CEO Tony Hayward. A meeting is scheduled at the White House for next week Wednesday, June 16. Yesterday, Obama met with family members of those who died in the initial explosion of the Transocean Deepwater Horizon oil rig. Given that President Obama is a law professor, and most of his advisors are lawyers, it came as a surprise to them that a piece of maritime law, the Death on the High Seas Act (DOHSA), limits the amount of compensation of a death caused by wrongful acts beyond the 3-mile limit.

Under DOHSA, survivors are limited to a cash amount based solely on what a victim may have earned in life, or ‘pecuniary’ damages. Non-pecuniary damages, such as funeral expenses, grief and suffering, compensation for children, are not covered. Such was the case in 1996 concerning TWA Flight 800 when it crashed 8 miles off of Long Island. A panel of judges ruled in favor of the families of the crash victims, since in 1988, President Ronald Reagan extended the distance to international waters to 12 miles, therefore the crash did not occur on the “high seas”. It may be interesting to note that now Supreme Court Justice Sotomayor dissented, claiming that the 3-mile rule still applied.

We also learned yesterday that another maritime law, also from 1920, is a stumbling block to the clean-up efforts. Over a dozen nations have offered assistance, as they have equipment and experience in cleaning oil spills. However, the Jones Act prohibits foreign operations in the Gulf of Mexico. Known as Section 27 of the Maritime Act of 1920, the Jones Act deals with ‘cabotage’, or coastal shipping. The act is meant to protect the U.S. maritime industry such that only U.S. flagged vessels, crewed by at least 75% U.S. citizens, conducting commercial operations in U.S. waters. In 2005, the Bush administration waived the Jones Act in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.

During a press conference yesterday, Coast Guard Admiral Thad Allen was asked about this foreign assistance and the Jones Act. He said a waiver would be granted if a request were made. This morning, EPA head Carol Browner was asked on “Fox and Friends” if the White House would request a waiver? Her answer was that the request had to come from the Coast Guard. So it seems that despite being lawyer-heavy, the Obama administration, is not very sharp or aware of what it can do legally.

So here we are at Day 53 of the worst ecological disaster in U.S. history and we find more reasons why the Obama administration has fumbled the ball. Their lack-luster response from hardly commenting or doing anything during the first nine days was bad enough. While Obama supporters are quick to blame Bush and Cheney, we now know that much of the blame actually falls on the Clinton administration. In 1995, not only did the Clinton White House push for deep-water drilling far off shore, but they also set a maximum limit on liability to a mere $75 Million dollars. So low was the liability that BP did not bother to acquire any insurance, which may have forced them to exercise additional safeguards and procedures.

BP is not blameless. To what extent their responsibility is in the actual accident will need to be determined later. But for now, they have been doing all they can, as quickly as they can in regards to the well head one mile below the surface. However, in regards to the oil spill, there has been a tragedy of errors on many levels, from BP to the Federal government. This has only been made worse now by the Obama administration moratorium on off shore drilling, which is further harming the economies of the Gulf states, such as Louisiana. The perception of the White House being staffed with the best and brightest is completely tarnished. Even the decision to impose a moratorium at all is now being questioned as the group of scientists and engineers the White House claimed proposed the drilling ban now say they did no such thing. More fumbles, more misinformation, more confusion. Will Obama get any facts straight when he talks with BP executives next week? We shall see, but I wouldn’t count on it.