Do we really care about employment?

Prior to the State of the Union speech, many political pundits were busy assuring their audiences that President Obama would focus his message on jobs and the economy. While this is certainly a priority for the administration, the president overlooked a common-sense way to address unemployment that could result in immediate job creation and employment.

Despite the government-imposed offshore drilling moratorium being lifted on Oct. 12, the nation's oil and gas industry is bleeding badly. Since April 20, there have been no permits approved for deepwater exploratory wells. We have seen bureaucratic stalling and posturing that has left a multibillion-dollar industry at a standstill while the nation tries to battle its way through an economic downturn.

While it would be a waste of time to question the administration's immediate response to the catastrophe on the Deepwater Horizon, as time has passed and experts have had the opportunity to better understand the situation, it has become clear the incident was not only exclusive and distinct, but that our government's policy moving forward needs to focus on the industry as a whole -- not merely the operators and their contractors in the Gulf of Mexico.

Shifting our national policy on offshore drilling and domestic energy production based on one incident with impacts yet to be determined is both economically and internationally dangerous. Since the moratorium and in response to its impact, many companies working in the Gulf of Mexico have been forced to take drastic measures just to keep their doors open.

Allamon Tool Co., which manufactures liners and equipment for offshore producers, has laid off more than half of its work force. Arena Energy, a Texas-based business, has reduced staff by roughly 75 percent. And according to The New York Times, Seahawk Drilling, based in Houston, has laid off 350 hard-working men and women.

While these are only a few of the American-owned businesses affected by the federal government's current policies, it is vital we realize this industry and all of its components are being negatively impacted by a government agency that is operating with impunity and stifling professionals who want nothing more than to provide for their families and provide energy sources for our nation.

In 2009, the Gulf of Mexico Outer Continental Shelf generated nearly 400,000 jobs across the country and provided nearly $20 billion in revenue for federal, state and local governments. Yet under the yoke of the current regulations being imposed by the administration-created Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement, the industry is incapable of even exploring potential areas for expansion.

It has been propagated that within the decade, the Gulf of Mexico could generate more than $300 billion in proceeds to the government and its agencies. Notably, Rep. Kevin Brady, a Texas Republican, has been adamant about promoting the fact that as a result of the administration's policies, 8,000 to 12,000 jobs have been immediately, temporarily "killed" since the events on the Deepwater Horizon. Not only are those Americans not working, but as a result, many are left with no choice but to turn to the government to provide for their families. If we don't act quickly, not only will more companies be forced to put employees into similar situations, but those businesses will begin to permanently place those jobs in other countries.

Currently, the United States imports 4.2 billion barrels of crude oil and petroleum by-products a year. Domestically, we produce 1.8 billion barrels per year. While it is worth looking forward to new energy sources and working toward renewable goals, it would be inexcusable in the meantime to toss aside the jobs and the hard-working American employees who provide this country with homegrown power. Not only are U.S. taxpayers already sending upward of $300 billion abroad for various oil imports, but to think our own government would otherwise stifle domestic exploration and production under the pretext of a response to a singular tragedy is nothing less than appalling.

We need only look to the tumultuous situation in Egypt to note that this nation's energy policy should be less focused on international dependence and more centered on domestic resources. As our partners in the Middle East endure internal struggles, it only becomes more imperative that we can secure our own energy development.

It is past time that we look over bureaucratic stall tactics as part of the process. Thousands of Americans are out of work because of these policies, and while the effects of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill should not be overlooked, it's no time to throw the baby out with the bath water. We can solve a large part of the nation's growing federal budget deficit and oncoming energy shortage by allowing the offshore energy producers to produce.

J.C. Watts (, chairman of J.C. Watts Companies, a business consulting group, is former chairman of the Republican Conference of the U.S. House where he served as an Oklahoma representative from 1995 to 2002. He writes twice monthly for the Review-Journal.