When a bridge falls down or a natural disaster strikes, the federal government knows what to do. It has the knowledge and resources to help. It can send food, water, tents, trailers, first aid, sandbags. It can deploy crews to rebuild roads and structures. It can coordinate efforts from private relief agencies.
But when it comes to plugging an oil spill in 5,000 feet of water, the government can't do much. It doesn't have the know-how or technology to fix the problem.
Frustrating as it may be, the solution lies with the oil and oil services companies themselves. They have the knowledge, the experience, the equipment.
If this were, say, a bridge that was slowly buckling for a month, the government would be able to halt the crumbling. It has engineers who could do this in their sleep.
But a specialized field like deep-sea oil drilling? Almost all the engineers with the relevant qualifications are working in industry — not in the government.
Which is as it should be. We can't expect governments to spend time and money developing in-house expertise in every technology. That's the domain of the private sector. This distribution of skills between the public and private sectors leads to efficient allocation of the nation's wealth and resources.
It's only a problem when the private sector misbehaves in a way the government can't remedy. Then all the government can do is criticize, cajole and threaten.