Farewell to Michael Brown: sacrificial victim?

The Director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Michael Brown ("Brownie" to his friend President George W Bush), humiliated by his boss Michael Chertoff, Secretary for Homeland Security, who took him off the Katrina relief job while leaving him as FEMA director for any other disasters that might come along, has resigned, unsurprisingly and, one might think, in terms of his self-respect, not before time.  Asked if he feels he has been used as a scapegoat, he replied, not altogether without justification: "By the press, yes; by the President, no." 

michaelbrown.jpg< Michael Brown

Brown must bear his share of the blame for the deeply flawed official response to Katrina.  But so should the New Orleans Mayor, Ray Nagin; the Governor of Louisiana, Kathleen Babineaux Blanco;  Michael Chertoff; and the President at whose desk the buck stops.  But while Brown, humiliated and reviled, was resigning, Bush, flanked by Nagin and Blanco, was doing a sort of triumphal amphibious tour of the stricken city.  We have yet to hear what Nagin and Governor Blanco did to get the poor, the sick, the old and the other vulnerable thousands out of New Orleans between her declaration of a state of emergency on the Friday preceding Katrina, and the arrival of Katrina on the Monday, apart from the Governor formally requesting federal help on the Saturday.  Where were the fleets of school buses, the flotilla of boats, the requisitioned helicopters? Why didn’t the Governor call out the State’s National Guard during those three days available for preparation?  What did the Mayor do to pre-position water, food, sanitation and security arrangements at the convention center and the superdome?  Which of them briefed and deployed the police throughout the city?  Perhaps all these things were done.  If so, we have yet to hear about it.

Another reason for feeling just a tiny bit sorry for Brownie is the slur cast by the American and British media in column after column on his experience and qualifications for the job: the fact that he had served as commissioner of the International Arabian Horse Association was irresistibly good for a laugh, but the media generally refrained from mentioning that he had a good deal of other experience, some of it more relevant:

Under Secretary Brown has led Homeland Security’s response to more than 164 presidentially declared disasters and emergencies, including the 2003 Columbia Shuttle disaster and the California wildfires in 2003. In 2004, Mr. Brown led FEMA’s thousands of dedicated disaster workers during the most active hurricane season in over 100 years, as FEMA delivered aid more quickly and more efficiently than ever before.

Previously, Mr. Brown served as FEMA’s Deputy Director and the agency’s General Counsel. Shortly after the September 11th terrorist attacks, Mr. Brown served on the President’s Consequence Management Principal’s Committee, which acted as the White House’s policy coordination group for the federal domestic response to the attacks. Later, the President asked him to head the Consequence Management Working Group to identify and resolve key issues regarding the federal response plan. In August 2002, President Bush appointed him to the Transition Planning Office for the new Department of Homeland Security, serving as the transition leader for the EP&R Division.

Prior to joining FEMA, Mr. Brown practiced law in Colorado and Oklahoma, where he served as a bar examiner on ethics and professional responsibility for the Oklahoma Supreme Court and as a hearing examiner for the Colorado Supreme Court. He had been appointed as a special prosecutor in police disciplinary matters. While attending law school he was appointed by the Chairman of the Senate Finance Committee of the Oklahoma Legislature as the Finance Committee Staff Director, where he oversaw state fiscal issues. His background in state and local government also includes serving as an assistant to the city manager with emergency services oversight responsibilities and as a city councilman.

Mr. Brown was also an adjunct professor of law for the Oklahoma City University.

A native of Oklahoma, Mr. Brown holds a bachelor’s degree in Public Administration/Political Science from Central State University, Oklahoma. He received his J.D. from Oklahoma City University’s School of Law.

Footnote (15 September 2005):  There has been controversy about alleged misrepresentation of some of Brown’s past experience, such as the accusation that he had been "assistant to the City Manager" and not "Assistant City Manager", and that the FEMA website biography of him, quoted above, may have misrepresented his qualifications in other ways also.  Time magazine has published a useful analysis of these allegations and of Brown’s spokesperson’s answers to them.  The FEMA website seems to have amended the biography of Brown in response to some of these suspicions, as indicated in the passage quoted earlier.  The version currently on the FEMA website was last updated on 11 September.  It does not record Brown’s removal from responsibility for the Katrina relief effort, nor his subsequent resignation as Director of FEMA.  However, on another page, updated on 13 September, the website records that:

R. David Paulison was designated by President George W. Bush to serve as Acting Under Secretary of Emergency Preparedness and Response and Acting Director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency on September 12, 2005. Mr. Paulison was previously appointed by President Bush and confirmed by the United States Senate as the Administrator for the U.S. Fire Administration in December 2001.

And on yet another web page dated 12 September FEMA carries the press release with Michael Brown’s statement on his resignation as Director. 


1 Response

  1. Cybernymph says:

    I most definitely agree that Brown is being made the scapegoat. The attempt to portray him as scapegoat began to transpire well before he “resigned”.

    The day I saw him fighting back tears while Soledad O’Brien confronted him as to why FEMA did not know there were evacuees at the NO Convention Center, I could tell this man was near the breaking point.

    I believe he was “asked” to resign, and I think had he eaten a little more humble pie during the hearings, he would be alot better received by everyone.