Yuval Levin posits:
I think it’s actually right to say that the BP oil spill is something like Obama’s Katrina, but not in the sense in which most critics seem to mean it. It’s like Katrina in that many people's attitudes regarding the response to it reveal completely unreasonable expectations of government. The fact is, accidents (not to mention storms) happen. We can work to prepare for them, we can have various preventive rules and measures in place. We can build the capacity for response and recovery in advance. But these things happen, and sometimes they happen on a scale that is just too great to be easily addressed. It is totally unreasonable to expect the government to be able to easily address them and the kind of government that would be capable of that is not the kind of government that we should want.
Drum demurs, writing that "Katrina was an example of the type of disaster that the federal government is specifically tasked with handling" while there "is no federal expertise in capping oil blowouts" and there "is no federal agency tasked with repairing oil spills." I find those point pretty dispositive, although I take Yuval's argument about government's capacity in general. Clive Crook adds:
The notion that the government should be directing, as opposed to merely supervising, the effort to stop the leak -- BP should be pushed aside; bring in the military -- is absurd. So far as that side of the operations goes, all that matters is who has more technical expertise: the company or the administration? (If your house was burning down, would you want the White House directing the fire crews, or maybe calling in air strikes, as a sign of how seriously Obama takes your problem?)
I think you can and should excoriate BP for cost-cutting, and the MMS for inadequate supervision. But I see no reason to blame the feds for how hard it is to stop one of these. In 1979, it took ten months.