By DAVE GYMBURCH Staff writer

The federal government is "doing an adequate job" in reacting to the oil spill crisis, but "clearly could be doing better" in helping affected people receive compensation quickly, says Congressman Michael A. Arcuri of Utica.

Arcuri, D-24, said today "I like the idea of an independent panel" to handle damage claims, as called for by President Obama in his Oval Office address Tuesday night.

The funding "has to come from BP," Arcuri said of the oil company involved in the spill, and "we need to make sure we’re pressuring BP to get the money out as quickly as possible." While some analysts have questioned the extent to which BP can be forced to pay the spill-related costs, Arcuri said "I’m sure there are ways the government can put pressure on BP to be part of this" in regard to the panel. Commenting that "the last thing they want" would be potential questions on overall rights to drill, for instance, he said it is in BP’s "best interest to work with the U.S. government."

Obama’s address on the oil spill did "a good job of putting it in perspective for the whole country," said Arcuri, and "built confidence in...a short-term plan" to deal with it.

Arcuri emphasized that such a spill is "not something we’ve ever had to deal with" previously, and "everyone was a little slow in reacting" because "we’ve never had any experience with this before." But he said officials are "now moving quickly" and are "on track" in responding. He noted such steps as the mobilization of National Guard troops and government involvement in creating barriers against the oil flow.

However, the technology and equipment to directly address the spill is "all owned by the private sector," said Arcuri, and "we as a government do not have the wherewithal to deal with drilling one mile below the surface." But the government can be closely involved in "ensuring that people have compensation" as the damage claims develop, he said, including "ways where we could vastly improve and streamline" the process. He said one of the steps that is "easier for us to do" in reacting is to be involved in "a panel set up to fairly compensate people...."

Obama’s address drew a different reaction from Richard Hanna of Barneveld, a Republican who is running against Arcuri in the fall election for the 24th Congressional District seat.

"It is agonizingly clear that neither the government nor Big Oil was prepared for the eventuality of this disaster," Hanna said in an e-mail statement. "The lack of government oversight and BP’s mismanagement are glaring evidence of our long overdue need to develop a national energy policy that moves us toward sustainable resources. There is plenty of blame to go around with this disaster."

Obama’s remarks Tuesday also involved his goals for major energy and climate change legislation. His statements included "what I wanted to hear" on the overall topic, said Arcuri, who added "what we need" is to "come together...a strategy on how to approach this."

While Obama has been "criticized by both sides...liberals and conservatives" over the oil crisis, Arcuri said it indicates the president is "in the right the middle, where he should be" in seeking to "build a consensus" on what is best for everyone.