As Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans on Aug. 29, Michael D. Brown, then director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, appeared confused over whether Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff had put him in charge, senior military officials could not reach Brown and his team became swamped by the speed of the unfolding disaster, according to e-mails to and from Brown.And what was Brown doing? Complaining about his "demotion"!
When Chertoff belatedly named Brown the on-site disaster coordinator on the night of Aug. 30 and declared Katrina an "incident of national significance" -- the highest- order catastrophe under a new national response plan -- Brown and his assistants privately complained.And as for that plan? FEMA don' need no steenkin' plan!
"Demote the Under Sec to PFO [Principal Federal Officer]?" an outraged FEMA press secretary Sharon Worthy wrote Brown at 10:54 p.m., soon after Chertoff's decision. "What about the precedent being set? What does this say about executive management and leadership in the Agency?" "Exactly," replied Brown, then-under secretary for preparedness and response, according to e-mails obtained by The Washington Post.
"Let them play their raindeer [sic] games as long as they are not turning around and tasking us with their stupid questions. None of them have a clue about emergency management," Altshuler told Brown and Brown's chief of staff, Patrick Rhode.What's the Biblical metaphor about the blind leading the blind?
And where is Chertoff? Not in these e-mails. Maybe he knows better than to leave a written record:
Chertoff's voice is markedly absent from the correspondence so far, said I. Michael Greenberger, a former Clinton administration official who heads the Center for Health and Homeland Security at the University of Maryland. "Chertoff appears to be sort of an interested overseer, rather than the chief of staff to the president managing this in Washington," he said.But never fear: the GOP Congress is large and in charge:
"[Rep. Thomas M.] Davis [III (R-Va.), chairman of the investigation] wants to know if Michael Brown had it right. Does Secretary Chertoff agree that FEMA has grown emaciated, that its budget's been hijacked and that it's been organizationally undermined since Congress folded it into DHS?" Davis spokesman David Marin said.Perhaps that is another reason Congress' job approval rating is down to 29%. Keep it up, guys!
The Wapo article also notes that communications were so bad that on Sept. 1 Gen. Honore was forced to ask FEMA officials to track down Brown for him. And they couldn't do it. And as for previous FEMA statements, well; they may no longer be operative:
Brown's e-mails show that FEMA leaders acted on information that conflicts with the timeline released by Homeland Security a week after the hurricane. Altshuler's e-mail of Aug. 28, for example, referred to White House pressure to create the interagency team that would include FEMA, the Pentagon, the State Department and others. The group began meeting Aug. 26, according to the department timeline.Well, as soon as Rep. Davis has figured out the bureaucratic tangle that is DHS, I'm sure he'll get right on that.