Washington (CNN) - Legally, President Barack Obama can effectively fire BP and have the federal government take over efforts to stop the Gulf of Mexico oil spill. The question is whether that would help the situation.
No one argues that the Oil Pollution Act of 1990 gives Obama the authority to take over all efforts to plug the gushing well 5,000 feet beneath the surface.
However, officials of oil giant BP, while acknowledging their failure so far to stop the leak, say no one - even the U.S. government - can match their company's know-how and technology in such a crisis.
"I don't think anyone else could do better than we are," Doug Suttles, the BP chief operating officer, told CNN on Monday. "I know that that's frustrating to hear and our performance, to this point, I wish was better. I wish this was done. But we're doing everything we can. And I don't actually believe anyone could do any better, unfortunately."
Administration officials also have said they lack the technology - such as unmanned underwater submarines that can work at such ocean depths - that has been deployed by BP.
While the military has some deep-sea capability, such as deep-sea submersibles, a senior Pentagon official told CNN that the military has no unique technology to offer regarding offshore oil drilling. The military has undersea imagery technology, but military officials told CNN it would not add any capability to what the private industry is already using.
Fadel Gheit, managing director for oil and gas research at Oppenheimer & Co. investment bank and firm, said the government has the authority, "but we don't have the technology or ability to do it."
"The government is not in the oil business," Gheit said, adding that BP is the industry leader and "if they cannot do it, nobody else can. Period."
Interior Secretary Ken Salazar made clear Sunday that the federal role in stopping the leak is overseeing BP's efforts rather than taking over.
"The United States has the responsibility for oversight," Salazar told reporters in Houston, Texas. "Right now, the program that we have with respect to stopping the well and the pollution that's emanating from the ocean floor involves a very significant oversight and involvement from the federal agencies. ... That will continue through this week, as we move forward."
Salazar said the government could exert its full authority with regard to dealing with the spilled oil once the leak is stopped.
"With respect to the rest of the responses, including keeping the oil from coming near shore and onshore and dealing with those ecological values, BP, again, is the responsible party and is on the hook for doing everything that needs to happen," Salazar said. "If we find that they're not doing what they're supposed to be doing, we'll push them out of the way appropriately and we'll move forward to make sure that everything is being done to protect the people of the Gulf Coast, the ecological values of the Gulf Coast, and the
values of the American people."
Since the April 20 explosion and fire destroyed the Deepwater Horizon offshore rig, setting off the deep-sea gusher, oil giant BP has led the effort to stop the leak.
Several failed efforts in the ensuing month have raised frustration across the nation as the spilled oil spreads further, coating some Louisiana coastlines and threatening areas to the Florida Keys and perhaps beyond.
Obama is coming under increasing criticism for the inability to stop it, causing his chief spokesman to mount an impassioned defense of administration efforts.
"We have pushed relentlessly for BP to do what is necessary to contain what is leaking, to deal with both the environmental and the economic impacts of what, as the president said today, is unquestionably a disaster," White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs told reporters Friday.
However, even Obama's critics seem to recognize there are limits to what the government can accomplish.
"They can fire BP and take it over," Republican Sen. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee said Sunday on the CBS program "Face the Nation." "But the truth is the federal government probably doesn't have the capacity to do that."
Marcia McNutt, the U.S. Geological Survey director who is assisting in the Gulf oil spill response, said Sunday that initial unrealistic expectations about the possibility of stopping the leak may be heightening the frustration now.
"I think everyone has to understand that the kinds of operations they are doing in the deep sea have never been done before," McNutt said. "And I think it is too bad that expectations were probably raised on schedules that probably were impossible to meet in terms of the kinds of construction that was required in the deep sea to effect these operations; that involved mobilizing equipment, fabricating new devices that had never been deployed at these depths before."
- CNN's Barbara Starr contributed to this report.