NEW ORLEANS — Gaffe-prone BP Chief Executive Tony Hayward, under fire for his handling of the Gulf oil spill, is being replaced, a senior U.S. government official said today.

An official announcement could come as early as Monday. The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the announcement had not yet been made, was briefed on the decision by a senior BP official late last week.

The official did not know who would replace Hayward or when it would happen. One of the most likely successors is BP PLC Managing Director Bob Dudley, who is currently overseeing the British company’s spill response.

BP’s board would have to approve a change in company leadership.

Earlier today, BP spokesman Toby Odone seemed to downplay media speculation about Hayward’s departure, saying he “remains BP’s chief executive, and he has the confidence of the board and senior management.”

The news comes more than three months after an offshore drilling rig operated by the company exploded off Louisiana on April 20, killing 11 workers and setting off the spill. A temporary plug has stopped oil from spewing for more than a week now, but before that BP’s busted well had spilled anywhere from 94 million to 184 million gallons into the Gulf.

BP has already spent roughly $4 billion on its response to the crisis. The final tally could be in the tens of billions of dollars.

Hayward became a lightning rod for public criticism as oil washed ashore and he made several gaffes that put him out of touch with the calamity unfolding in the Gulf. He initially downplayed the amount of crude gushing from the deep-sea well.

Later, as cleanup crews struggled to corral the massive spill, Hayward said he would “like my life back.” Most recently, he was spotted attending a yacht race in England while Gulf fishermen kept their boats at the dock because of the oil in their waters.

Hayward, 53, has spent 28 years with the British oil giant. He took over the top spot in 2007 after a series of events including a fatal explosion at a Texas refinery and an oil spill off the Alaska coast, as well as accusations of misusing company resources, led to the ouster of John Browne.

Upon replacing Browne, Hayward promised to focus “like a laser” on safety. In June, members of Congress repeatedly reminded Hayward how empty that promise sounded with 11 workers dead, BP seemingly unprepared to contain the spill and a Congressional investigation indicating that officials put cost-savings ahead of safety in the days and hours before the rig explosion. BP hasn’t completed its own investigation into the cause.