Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said the U.S. will push BP aside if the government decides the company isn't doing enough to halt the leak.
The Obama administration says it has lost patience with BP's efforts to stop and clean up the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, and is threatening to take over the operation.
After talks at BP headquarters in Houston, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar says he's just about had it.
"We are 33 days into this effort, and deadline after deadline has been missed," said Salazar. "If we find they're not doing what they're supposed to be doing," said Salazar, "we'll push them out of the way appropriately."
Salazar's remarks came as BP said it will be at least Tuesday before engineers can shoot mud into the blown-out well at the bottom of the Gulf, yet another delay in the effort to plug up the break that's unleashed hundreds of thousands of barrels of oil into the Gulf. The company had originally hoped to try the so-called top kill method as early as this weekend.
Earlier in the day, Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen, who is responsible for the oversight of the month-old spill response, said he, too, is frustrated, and that he understands the discontent among residents who want to know what's next.
"If anybody is frustrated with this response, I would tell them their symptoms are normal, because I'm frustrated, too," said Allen. "Nobody likes to have a feeling that you can't do something about a very big problem."
But Allen said only the private sector has the technical expertise to stop the spill. And he said the government must hold BP accountable. After the 1989 Exxon Valdez tanker spilled 11 million gallons of oil in Alaska, Congress dictated that oil companies be responsible for dealing with major accidents -- including paying for all cleanup -- with oversight by federal agencies.
Delay, Setbacks Mark Efforts To Halt Spill
BP has tried and failed several times to halt the gusher, and has had some success with a mile-long tube inserted into the leaking well last week. But on Sunday, the company said that method isn't working as effectively as before.
BP spokesman John Curry told The Associated Press that the tube siphoned some 57,120 gallons of oil within the past 24 hours, a sharp drop from the 92,400 gallons of oil a day that the device was sucking up on Friday. However, the company has said the amount of oil siphoned will vary widely from day to day.
On Tuesday, crews plan to shoot heavy mud into a crippled piece of equipment atop the well. Then engineers will direct cement at the well to permanently stop the oil. The method has been tried on land but never 5,000 feet underwater, so scientists and engineers have spent the past week preparing and taking measurements to make sure it will stop the oil that has been spewing into the sea for a month.
"It's taking time to get everything set up," BP spokesman Tom Mueller said. "They're taking their time. It's never been done before. We've got to make sure everything is right."
Engineers are also developing several other plans in case the top kill doesn't work, including an effort to shoot knotted rope, pieces of tire and other material -- known as a junk shot -- to plug the blowout preventer, which was meant to shut off the oil in case of an accident but did not work.
President Obama has named a special independent commission to review what happened. The spill began after the Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded off the coast of Louisiana on April 20, killing 11 workers, and sank two days later. At least 6 million gallons of crude have spewed into the Gulf of Mexico since, though a growing number of scientists have said they believe it's more.
On CBS' Face the Nation, White House press secretary Robert Gibbs defended the federal government's response to the oil spill. The Coast Guard, he said, was on the scene the moments after the oil rig exploded. And, he added, government scientists are in Houston trying to figure out ways to plug the leak.
Gibbs also said Justice Department officials are in the Gulf gathering information about the spill. But he did not say whether a criminal investigation is under way.
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency chief Lisa P. Jackson was headed Sunday to Louisiana, where she planned to visit with frustrated residents. And Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano will join Salazar in leading a Senate delegation to the region on Monday to fly over affected areas and keep an eye on the response.
Oil Continues To Wash Into Marshes, Beaches
Meanwhile, thick, brown oil continues to wash up into the marshes and onto the beaches of some barrier islands and in some coastal wetlands west of the Mississippi River in southern Louisiana.
And experts say this is only just the beginning.
Much of the massive amount of oil has been floating around in Gulf currents away from shore. Now, residents along the Gulf Coast can expect to see oil continue washing ashore for weeks and months to come.
Crews trying to mop up the oil are finding it difficult to try to clean up the toxic mess, particularly when it gets deep inside of marshes and clings to the tall reeds and grasses.
On Sunday, the dire impact of the massive spill was apparent on oil-soaked islands where pelicans nest, as several of the birds splashed in the water and preened themselves, apparently trying to clean crude from their feet and wings.
Pelican eggs were glazed with rust-colored gunk in the bird colony, with thick globs floating on top of the water. Nests sat precariously close to the mess in mangrove trees.
Speaking from a boat at the edge of one of the pelican nesting grounds, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal said Sunday that the state is not waiting for federal approval to begin building sand barriers to protect the coastline from the Gulf of Mexico oil spill.
Jindal and officials from several coastal parishes say the berms would close the door on the oil. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is studying the environmental impacts from the emergency barrier proposal. The Corps didn't immediately respond to e-mails and telephone messages. Copyright 2010 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.