BP enlists former FEMA chief James Lee Witt to help in Gulf oil spill

WASHINGTON (AP) — BP says it has enlisted the help of James Lee Witt, the Federal Emergency Management Agency director in the Clinton administration and an expert on disaster response.

Bob Dudley, BP's new point man for the oil response, said Thursday he has asked Witt to go to New Orleans to review what the company is doing and how it can improve its response to the massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

Dudley said Witt is offering BP "an independent overview" on the response and ideas for the future. He called Witt's advice helpful and said the company will likely work with Witt again.

Speaking with reporters in Washington, Dudley also said a relief well being drilled in the Gulf is advancing. The relief well is intended to "kill" the deep-sea well that is now gushing millions of gallon of oil into the Gulf.

"I'm confident by the end of August we'll have that well killed," Dudley said, knocking a conference table for good luck.

Dudley, BP PLC's managing director, took over Wednesday leading the new Gulf Coast Restoration Organization, which is in charge of cleaning up the mess.

He talked to reporters after a series of meetings with high-ranking Obama administration officials, including White House energy adviser Carol Browner, EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson and Interior Secretary Ken Salazar.

Browner called the White House meeting important, given Dudley's new high-profile role. She said in a statement that she reiterated President Barack Obama's commitment to the people of the Gulf. She also reminded Dudley and other BP executives that the government expects BP to stop the leak, clean up the Gulf and allow residents to go back to their lives and livelihoods, Browner said.

"We will be judging their work and response based on that bar, no exceptions," she said.

The soft-spoken Dudley, who was born in New York but grew up in Mississippi, replaces BP CEO Tony Hayward as the public face of the company's response to the oil spill. The British Hayward made a series of public blunders, including taking a break from the cleanup to attend a yacht race in England and saying he would "like my life back."

Dudley said he took the job now — rather than in late summer after the well is plugged — because BP officials agreed at a White House meeting last week to create a $20 billion escrow account for victims of the oil spill, as well as a $100 million fund to support displaced oil rig workers.

Those issues "needed real attention and oversight," he said. "The CEO has other things to do."