Actor Kevin Costner’s latest role as a small-business owner trying to convince oil companies that his cleanup equipment is just what they need to deal with an oil spill like the one in the Gulf of Mexico, has been anything but a star turn.
Costner told the Senate Small Business and Entrepreneurship Committee on Thursday that while he recently got a call from BP Chief Operating Officer Doug Suttles saying his “machines worked,” lots of small companies with innovative solutions can’t get to first base.
“You should know that negotiating your way through the bureaucratic maze that currently exists is like trying to play a video game that nobody can master,” Costner said.
BP has ordered 32 of the machines produced by Costner’s Ocean Therapy Solutions, and BP and Costner plan a news conference to discuss the deal today.
Heather Baird, vice president of Massachusetts-based MicroSorb Environmental Products, which produces “oil-eating microbes” that the company says would clean the spill without the environmental hazards of dispersants, said getting BP or the government to respond has been a frustrating battle.
“Simply put, we were not clear on who is really making the decisions, and I am not sure that any business, small or large, knows how best to be heard,” Baird said.
Though the Coast Guard set up an interagency alternative technology assessment program June 4 to evaluate innovative proposals, Rear Adm. Ronald Rabago testified that only one of the 1,900 concepts offered has been submitted to federal agencies for consideration and none has been accepted.
Members of the committee said they’ve been hearing from constituents who can’t even get a response, never mind an actual meeting or assessment of their products from anyone in authority.
Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., the panel’s chairwoman, said the federal response to small-business applications is clearly unacceptable. Though she said her office just got an e-mail from Louisiana remediation firm that recently received a contract, “there are thousands still waiting.”
Sen. David Vitter, R-La., said he has done something he “normally doesn’t do,” using his Blackberry to e-mail requests to federal officials to consider what he views as innovative solutions by three Louisiana companies. But all he gets is “automated responses” with no solid information.
“It seems to go into a black hole,” Vitter said.
Rabago said the Coast Guard is expanding efforts to evaluate proposals by small businesses and now has access to BP’s website where small businesses and individuals are presenting their suggestions. The Coast Guard, he said, will try to go through all of the thousands of suggestions.
Eric Smith, associate director of the Tulane University Energy Center in New Orleans, suggested the government contract with universities to evaluate the proposals by small businesses to separate promising ideas from those without merit.
Small-business representatives, he said, have contacted him and other Tulane officials with the same message: “They feel they are being ignored or stalled by the authorities at the Unified Command Center, at BP at the Minerals Management Service, at the Coast Guard and other state and federal agencies involved in spill response activities,” Smith told the Senate committee.
Costner said that for 17 years he had his equipment tested, and made presentations to oil companies and federal officials, seeking to get his equipment on the ready to respond immediately to oil spills.
Now, Costner hopes that, before President Barack Obama ends his six-month moratorium on deep-water drilling, the nation finally will be prepared to wage an effective oil spill response.
“Before you lift the moratorium, before you do that, please have clean-up technology in place or at least on the way in a specific time, that is designed to meet and match with full force the worst-case scenario that can be presented to us,” Costner said.
Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, said the government has to find a way to evaluate promising technologies.
“Yet, regrettably, small businesses often continue to find themselves ensnared in a bureaucratic quagmire as a result of a process with no unified approach for evaluating and approaching their entrepreneurial solutions to this unparalleled catastrophe,” Snowe said.