One proposal called for suspending the company from getting government work under a federal law aimed at protecting taxpayers against unscrupulous contractors.
But there was a snag. BP, the regulators knew from experience, might be too big to ban. They recalled that last year, before the spill in the Gulf of Mexico, officials at the Environmental Protection Agency wanted to stop BP from getting government contracts until it addressed various environmental and safety violations. Then, according to a lawyer involved in the debarment process at the agency, the Pentagon objected: BP was its biggest supplier of fuel.
As the case of BP illustrates, the largest companies often escape the stiffest penalties because government agencies are too dependent on them. And even when there are suspensions or debarments they usually affect individuals or a business unit within the company, not the whole company.