Ex-FEMA Head Takes Greater Share of Katrina Blame

Published January 19, 2006

| Associated Press

Former FEMA Director Michael Brown on Wednesday accepted a greater share of the blame for the government's failures after Hurricane Katrina, saying he fell short in conveying the magnitude of the disaster and calling for help.

"I should have asked for the military sooner. I should have demanded the military sooner," Brown told a gathering of meteorologists at a ski resort in the Sierra Nevada.

"It was beyond the capacity of the state and local governments, and it was beyond the capacity of FEMA," said Brown, former head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Brown's remarks Wednesday stood in contrast to his testimony at a congressional hearing in September, when he blamed most of the government's failures on Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco and New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin — both Democrats.

He specifically targeted them for failing to evacuate New Orleans, restore order and improve communication.

"These are not FEMA roles," Brown told the congressional committee. "FEMA doesn't evacuate communities. FEMA does not do law enforcement. FEMA does not do communications."

In an interview after his speech Wednesday, Brown told The Associated Press: "I think it's important to realize that all of us made mistakes. ... After a while you get a different perspective."

He added: "I still do believe that things weren't working too well down there."

He also told the gathering of broadcast and National Weather Service meteorologists that he failed to delegate responsibility, saying he tried to attend to the details himself.

"It was the largest natural disaster ever to strike the United States — 92,000 square miles. Logistics were falling apart," he said.

Before joining FEMA in 2001, Brown was an attorney, held local government posts and headed the International Arabian Horse Association. President Bush appointed him to head the agency in April 2003.

FEMA came under fire immediately after Katrina struck the Louisiana and Mississippi coastlines Aug. 29, killing more than 1,300 in five states and leaving some 3,200 unaccounted for.

He was relieved of his command in the stricken region and recalled Sept. 9 to Washington. Brown resigned three days later, saying he feared he had become a distraction.

Asked on Wednesday if he felt he had been railroaded out of his post, Brown replied: "I'm moving on."

He said his biggest concern was the current emphasis on reorganizing FEMA, particularly in light of past budget cuts that had left hundreds of vacancies in an agency with 2,500 employees.

"It's time to stop organizing and get FEMA back to what it was before — get its budget back up to where it was."

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