From Kevin Drum of the Washington Monthly:
The Washington Monthly: NORTHCOM AND KATRINA....Last time I checked, naval officers aren't in the habit of criticizing their commander in chief no matter how many punches they have to absorb in the process. It appears, however, that Lt. Commander Sean Kelly, a Pentagon spokesman for Northern Command, didn't get the memo. Asked why Northcom hadn't reponded to Hurricane Katrina more quickly, he accidentally told the truth:
Northcom started planning before the storm even hit.... We had the USS Bataan sailing almost behind the hurricane so once the hurricane made landfall, its search and rescue helicopters could be available almost immediately. So, we had things ready. The only caveat is: we have to wait until the president authorizes us to do so. The laws of the United States say that the military can't just act in this fashion; we have to wait for the president to give us permission.
So why didn't the president issue the orders?
There are levels of incompetence that easily clear the "criminal negligence" bar.