Obama’s oil spill commission looks insufficiently staffed for the task at hand. Let me explain why.

First, note that the political class is almost 100% attorneys without any technical expertise whatsoever. Thus, they do not always make the best decisions about which expertise to apply to a problem, and how. Moreover, going with what they know (or don’t know, depending on how one looks at it), they often put attorneys at the top of the various food chains, where such is not always the optimal approach.

As AP writer Seth Borenstein very accurately points out:

Only one of the seven commissioners, the dean of Harvard’s engineering and applied sciences school, has a prominent engineering background — but it’s in optics and physics. Another is an environmental scientist with expertise in coastal areas and the after-effects of oil spills. Both are praised by other scientists.

The five other commissioners are experts in policy and management.

The commission heads, William K. Reilly and Bob Graham, are attorneys.

Just as the EPA is currently run by a chemical engineer, Lisa Jackson, something as important as understanding and preventing these sorts of oil leaks requires significantly more chemistry and engineering expertise than we see on this commission.

One could argue that this commission will have access to lot of other folks with applicable backgrounds, and that is true, up to a point. But, to paraphrase and old saying, if you don’t know enough about what you don’t know, then you usually are  not going to be in a position to formulate the right questions of the right people.


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