The Obama administration is expected to take over control of the central information website on the Gulf oil spill response that has been run jointly by various agencies and BP for the 2½ months since the rig explosion.
The Department of Homeland Security wants a one-stop shop for information that is completely overseen by the government as it settles into the long-haul of dealing with the response to the disaster. The U.S. Coast Guard falls under Homeland Security's authority.
BP and the federal government are part of a unified command that is working together to try to contain the oil gusher, but the government has been directing BP at every turn.
A DHS spokesman told The Associated Press on Sunday that the joint relationship won't change when the website is given a .gov address instead of a .com address.
But who can post information to the site would change. Details are still being worked out.
The spokesman, Sean Smith, said the government wants to be as transparent as possible and increase Americans' access to information.
BP is helping pay for the current website. The government could still bill BP when it takes over the site.
The deepwaterhorizonresponse.com site may still be maintained during the changeover, but ultimately it will be taken down altogether when the government moves the response information to its own website.
A BP spokesman did not immediately respond to several requests for comment on the move, which could occur within days.
A frequent critic of the administration's response to the oil spill, Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., was skeptical the change would amount to much.
"Given that the government taking over the cleanup hasn't exactly fixed things, it's hard to imagine the government taking over a website making things much better either," Issa, a member of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, said in a statement e-mailed to the AP.
"In recent weeks, we've heard directly from local officials pleading for less bureaucracy, more resources and expressing an overall frustration with this administration's apparent pre-occupation with the public relations surrounding this catastrophe," he said.
Rough weather still along coast
Along the Gulf, meanwhile, cleanup crews surveyed damage done by last week's hurricane while contending Sunday with choppy seas that idled many of the boats dedicated to keeping oil from hitting vulnerable beaches and marshes.
Offshore skimming vessels were able to operate in Louisiana waters, but not off the coasts of Alabama, Mississippi and Florida, officials said.
"We've got our guys out there and they're docked and ready, but safety is a huge concern for us, especially with the smaller vessels," said Courtnee Ferguson, a spokeswoman for the Joint Information Command in Mobile, Ala.
The offshore skimming in those states has essentially been curtailed for nearly a week, thanks to weather generated earlier by Hurricane Alex, even though it was never closer than 500 miles or so to the spill.
On Sunday, huge barges used to collect oil from skimming vessels were parked at the mouth of Mobile Bay, waiting for conditions to subside as waves rose to about 5 feet high miles offshore.
The current spate of bad weather is likely to last well into next week, according to the National Weather Service.
"This should remain fairly persistent through the next few days, and maybe get a little worse," meteorologist Mike Efferson said.
On the shore, beach cleanup crews were making progress on new oil that washed up thanks to the high tides generated by last week's bad weather.
800 removing tar balls along beach
In Grand Isle, about 800 people were removing tar balls and liquid oil from seven miles of beach, Coast Guard Cmdr. Randal Ogrydziak said.
"In a day or two, you wouldn't be able to tell the oil was even there," he said.
By Wednesday, Ogrydziak said they should have a machine on the beach that washes sand where the oil washed ashore.
Crews have also been working to put containment boom thrown around by the storms back into place, he said.
Along the Louisiana coast, skimmers that were able to operate included the giant converted oil tanker known as A Whale.
Taiwanese shipping firm TMT, which owns the vessel, calls it the world's largest oil skimmer. Sunday was the second day of testing the ship's abilities for U.S. Coast Guard and BP officials who will make a decision about whether to put it — and its purported capacity to suck up 21 million gallons of oil-tainted water per day — to work in the Gulf.
But even the giant vessel is having trouble with the weather, TMT spokesman Bob Grantham said in an e-mail Sunday.
"As was the case yesterday, the sea state, with waves at times in excess of ten feet, is not permitting optimal testing conditions," he said.
The vessel's crew is hoping for calmer conditions, so they can test its skimming ability with a containment boom system designed to direct greater amounts of oily water to the ship's intake vents.
A decision on whether the ship can be used to help scour the crude from the Gulf will be made in a few days, Grantham said.
So far, weather has not slowed drilling on two relief wells that could be the best hope of finally plugging what has become the worst oil leak in Gulf history. BP officials have said they're running slightly ahead of schedule on the drilling, but expect weather or other delays.
Early to mid-August is still the timeframe for the completion of the drilling.