Declaring "the buck stops with me," President Obama ordered an increase in manpower in the Gulf and vowed to do whatever it takes to protect coastal communities from the creeping oil spill as he surveyed damage in Louisiana Friday.
The president said the federal government's response would continue in "full force" regardless of the outcome of BP's latest attempt to plug the leak. BP is trying to inject mud into the leak and seal it with cement -- Obama said that a team of experts is working on contingency plans, but even if the so-called "top kill" method works, cleanup crews will still be left with the "largest spill in American history."
"People are watching their livelihoods wash up on the beach," he said. "This is our highest priority and it deserves a response that is equal to the task."
Obama said the government has deployed 1,400 members of the National Guard, 1,400 vessels and 3 million feet of protective boom to contain the spill. He said he's directed top administration officials to triple the number of workers in areas where oil has hit shore or is expected to make landfall in 24 hours.
The Gulf trip was his second since the April 20 explosion that triggered the leak and came as criticism mounted of the federal government's response.
The president forcefully defended his administration's approach to managing the effort to both plug the leak and mitigate the damage to the coastline during a lengthy press conference Thursday afternoon. He declared that Washington is "in charge," and pledged to "shut this down." The president interrupted a Memorial Day vacation in Chicago to fly to Louisiana for the afternoon Friday.
But lawmakers and organizations typically allied with the White House have joined the chorus of criticism aimed at the administration. A coalition of environmental and local groups has called on Obama to "federalize" the clean-up and tap the U.S. military to play a full-blown leadership role in that effort. The groups want Obama to assign a single "military disaster response director," as former President George W. Bush did after Hurricane Katrina.
"I hate to say it, but we do not have that type of federal leadership right now and so we're calling for it," Aaron Viles, campaign director for the Gulf Restoration Network, told FoxNews.com. He conceded that the government needs to rely on BP to plug the leak itself, but said more federal resources should be tapped to keep the spill from spreading and damaging the coastal environment and economy. The local Sierra Club and other groups are participating in the announcement.
"We are underwhelmed by the response," Viles said.
Obama attended a briefing Friday with coastal state governors, other local officials and Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen, who is overseeing the federal response to the spill. Obama first visited the region to survey the damage on May 2.
BP continued to try Friday to stop the leak a mile deep in the Gulf. After a delay Thursday to assess progress and replenish materials, the company resumed pumping heavy drilling mud into the blown-out underwater well, adding rubber and other man-made junk to increase pressure on the oil well. Officials said it would be 48 hours during the weekend before the company will know whether the "top kill" procedure has succeeded in cutting off the oil that has been gushing into the Gulf for five weeks.
Separately, Elizabeth Birnbaum, the head of the Minerals Management Service that oversees offshore drilling, became the highest-ranking political casualty of the spill when she resigned Thursday under pressure.
Public support for Obama's handling of the ecological disaster is dropping and his move to take responsibility, answer questions and visit the region represent a more aggressive White House effort to quell the frustration.
"My job right now is just to make sure everybody in the Gulf understands: This is what I wake up to in the morning, and this is what I go to bed at night thinking about. The spill," Obama said.
Some of those feeling the effects of the oil that is soiling birds and darkening beaches along the coast had mixed feelings about whether Obama should even come to see what is happening along the coast.
"He'll have a better idea of what he needs to do or get other people to do," said Donald Lefort, 41, a convenience store clerk in Venice, La., which has become a staging area for efforts to fight the oil.
Larry Freman, 72, who was cleaning up around his vacation home on Grand Isle's main drag, which usually is packed with vacationers this close to Memorial Day, said Obama should stay home.
"I think he's wasting his time coming here," the oil business veteran said.
Buggie Vegas, owner of Bridge Side Cabins and Marina on Grand Isle, criticized the federal response but said it would be helpful for Obama to see the effects of the disaster.
New government estimates Thursday put the size of the spill at nearly 18 million to 39 million gallons over the past five weeks, surpassing the 1989 Exxon Valdez accident in Alaska. Then, nearly 11 million gallons spilled.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.