The "degradation of effective government by anti-government ideology" during the Bush years, and, I'd add, the belief that markets take care of these problems on their own that pervaded regulatory culture, undermined the ability of government regulators to require companies to take precautions that might have prevented the disaster in the gulf. This was also the story of the financial crisis, and these two recent disasters illustrate the more general need for a reversal of "the collapse in government competence and effectiveness that took place during the Bush years":
Sex & Drugs & the Spill, by Paul Krugman, Commentary, NY Times: “Obama’s Katrina”: that was the line from some pundits and news sources, as they tried to blame the current administration for the gulf oil spill. It was nonsense, of course. ...
Yet there is a common thread running through Katrina and the gulf spill — namely, the collapse in government competence and effectiveness that took place during the Bush years. ... BP failed to take adequate precautions, and ... federal regulators made no effort to ensure that such precautions were taken.
For years, the Minerals Management Service, the arm of the Interior Department that oversees drilling in the gulf, minimized the environmental risks of drilling. It failed to require a backup shutdown system that is standard in much of the rest of the world, even though its own staff declared such a system necessary. It exempted many offshore drillers from the requirement that they file plans to deal with major oil spills. And it specifically allowed BP to drill Deepwater Horizon without a detailed environmental analysis.
Surely, however, none of this — except, possibly, that last exemption, granted early in the Obama administration — surprises anyone who followed the ... Interior Department during the Bush years.
For the Bush administration was, to a large degree, run by and for the extractive industries — and I’m not just talking about Dick Cheney’s energy task force. Crucially, management of Interior was turned over to ... J. Steven Griles, a coal-industry lobbyist who became deputy secretary and effectively ran the department. (In 2007 Mr. Griles pleaded guilty to lying to Congress about his ties to Jack Abramoff.)
Given this history, it’s not surprising that the Minerals Management Service became subservient to the oil industry — although what actually happened is almost too lurid to believe. According to reports by Interior’s inspector general, abuses at the agency went beyond undue influence: there was “a culture of substance abuse and promiscuity” — cocaine, sexual relationships with industry representatives, and more. Protecting the environment was presumably the last thing on these government employees’ minds.
Now, President Obama isn’t completely innocent of blame in the current spill. As I said, BP received an environmental waiver for Deepwater Horizon after Mr. Obama took office. ...
And it’s worth noting that environmentalists were bitterly disappointed when Mr. Obama chose Ken Salazar as secretary of the interior. They feared that he would be too friendly to mineral and agricultural interests, that ... there wouldn’t be a sharp break with Bush-era policies — and in this one case at least, they seem to have been right. In any case, now is the time to make that break — and I don’t just mean by cleaning house at the Minerals Management Service. What really needs to change is our whole attitude toward government. For the troubles at Interior ... were part of a broader pattern that includes the failure of banking regulation and the transformation of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, a much-admired organization during the Clinton years, into a cruel joke. And the common theme in all these stories is the degradation of effective government by anti-government ideology.
Mr. Obama understands this: he gave an especially eloquent defense of government at the University of Michigan’s commencement... Yet anti-government ideology remains all too prevalent, despite the havoc it has wrought. In fact, it has been making a comeback with the rise of the Tea Party movement. If there’s any silver lining to the disaster in the gulf, it is that it may serve as a wake-up call, a reminder that we need politicians who believe in good government, because there are some jobs only the government can do.