A new government report offers a harsh assessment of BP, its service contractors, and the U.S. Minerals Management Service in their respective roles in the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

The preliminary report from the National Academy of Engineering, released Nov. 17, suggests that BP and its service contractors “lacked a suitable approach for managing the inherent risks” at the Macondo well and learning from “near misses.” Click here to see full report.

“Important decisions made to proceed toward well abandonment despite several indications of potential hazard suggest an insufficient consideration of risks,” says Donald Winter, former secretary of the Navy, professor of engineering practice at the University of Michigan, and chair of the study committee.

“It’s also important to note that these flawed decisions were not identified or corrected by BP and its service contractors, or by the oversight process employed by the U.S. Minerals Management Service and other regulatory agencies,” Winter says.

The report is generally tougher on BP than the presidentially appointed BP Oil Commission, which released preliminary findings Nov. 8 in Washington, D.C. That panel’s lead investigator, Fred Bartlit, refused to cast blame on any one company, saying he agreed with “about 90%” of the findings of BP’s own investigation of the accident.

Although the study authors say their findings are preliminary, they reiterate criticism from some of the other investigations taking place relating to the decision to abandon the exploratory well despite the results of repeated negative-pressure tests showing that the cement casing was not providing an effective barrier to hydrocarbon flow.

Of particular concern overall, the NAS report says, was a lack of a systematic approach to “integrate the multiple factors impacting well safety, to monitor the overall margins of safety, and to assess various decisions from a well integrity and safety perspective.”

The NAS committee plans to issue a final report in the summer of 2011. That report will make recommendations to help foster a “culture of safety” to ensure that schedule and cost decisions do not compromise safety on similar operations.

The study is being sponsored by the Dept. of Interior. Bureau of Ocean Management, Regulation and Enforcement Director Michael Bromwich says the study team’s work “will help guide our continuing efforts to strengthen standards and oversight and underscores the importance of our ongoing efforts to build a strong and independent agency with the resources, training, and expertise to provide aggressive oversight of offshore oil and gas operations.”