The disastrous oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico will generate a welter of written material, both legal and managerial as the causes, responsibilities and therefore liabilities get sorted out, and those responsible seek to put in place a set of rules that prevent a recurrence, classicly bolting the stable door after the horse is long gone .
From a managerial perspective, the finger-pointing has started, and appears to be very aggressive. Each of the three parties, BP, the well owner, Halliburton, the contract driller, and Transocean, the owner of the rig, are all busily pointing fingers at each other in an effort to cast the blame onto the others.
Also in the mix are the US regulatory authorities, the Federal Minerals and Management Service, that is charged with the responsibility to promote safety, revenue collection and exploration, a classic conflict of interest.
This fiasco has the potential to be as absorbing as the blame game after the Wall Street meltdown 18 months ago.
It seems to me that the lesson is that as systems become more and more complex, and are therefore more and more likely to break down somewhere, we as a society need a new way to articulate where the responsibilities lie, and what are the sanctions for breaching them. In order to achieve this we need a mechanism that has at its core a simple, unambiguous statement and understanding by all parties to a system that then drives behavior throughout the system in accordance with an overriding purpose for the system to exist.
In the current context, the probability is that the Chairman of BP America Lamar McKay may keep his job, but worst case, gets fired with a financial cushion, Tim Probert, Halliburtons responsible executive will continue to be able to peddle his nonsense, and there will be lots of “tut-tutting” in Washington about the role of the MMS, shareholders in the various companies will be stuck with the financial and litigation bill, whilst the state governments of Florida and neighboring states are stuck with the cleanup, and nobody will carry the can, and none of the root causes of the disaster will change, or perhaps they will change sufficiently at the margins to satisfy a few voters for a while.
Most reasonable people would consider this an unreasonable outcome.