The following is a transcript of an interview that aired on Thursday, March 2, 2006.
TONY SNOW, FOX RADIO HOST: Joining me now, Mike Brown, the former director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency. You know, I'm listening — I've been reading through the transcripts. I thought I'd do something radical and look through the transcripts of August 28th and 29th of last year.
MICHAEL BROWN, FORMER FEMA DIRECTOR: Right.
SNOW: You were holding a series of meetings. Were you here in Washington at the time? Where were you when this was going on?
BROWN: Yes, those meetings were held from the FEMA Operations Center before I left. That was the Saturday and Sunday before I left for Baton Rouge on Sunday afternoon.
SNOW: So you are in Washington. You're holding meetings, and you're talking to all the chief disaster agency heads in Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana and Texas. Plus, you were talking with regional heads of the federal agencies that are charged with dealing with disaster, correct?
BROWN: Right. Plus around that table, if you look at the videotape, are representatives — high-level representatives — from all of the major federal departments: Department of Transportation, the Pentagon, HHS. All of those were sitting at the table with me too.
SNOW: Plus you've got Max Mayfield in, telling people what he expected. Nobody — in all the conversations on either day, there was no expectation that levees would break. There was some concern the water would spill over Lake Pontchartrain into New Orleans as the trailing edge of the storm came through. Do I have that correct?
BROWN: That's correct.
SNOW: All right. Now, as you're going through all this — incidentally, I'm kind of curious about the release of these tapes. Any sense of yours why they were released?
BROWN: Well, the Senate has been doing this investigation, and I personally have been out trying to find particularly the August 29th tape, because I thought it was pretty clear about when the president was engaged and two, exactly what my concerns were and what I was doing. Nobody could find those tapes. Lo and behold — because we, on Sunday, we didn't actually record that, but somebody in one of our regional offices did.
BROWN: And apparently the White House let that tape — either let the tape or the transcript out, the first part on like — maybe on Tuesday or something.
SNOW: Did you leak this?
BROWN: No, I did not.
SNOW: You should have.
BROWN: I — listen, you don't know how hard I've been around looking for that videotape and those transcripts. My lawyer has turned up heaven and earth trying to find these things because of what it means to me personally.
SNOW: Well, what it means to you personally, they're — let me just — OK, I'm going to kiss up you just, you know, because nobody ever kisses up to you. As a matter of fact, they've been beating the tar out of you for a long time.
But here you are. You're on August 28th. Everybody is getting ready for these things, and what you started doing was running down a list of things that you wanted to do. Now this is after hearing from Max Mayfield about the status of the hurricane. This was after talking with people at all the levels in all the various states, and after getting an update on logistics, an update on humanitarian aid and so on.
You said, "Okay, let me tell you what my concerns are: number one, you know the mayor has ordered the Superdome to be used as a shelter of first resort. I didn't hear about any other shelters. As you may or may not know, the Superdome is about 12 feet below sea level, so I don't know what the heck" — those words are missing. I wish I could hear that. That might have been colorful. "I'm concerned about the roof. I don't know whether the roof was designed to withstand a Cat 5 hurricane." As it turned out, it was not. "I do believe that I also heard there was no mandatory evacuations. "They are not taking patients out of hospitals."
Now, this is significant, because Grif Jenkins, on my staff, went to the Baptist hospital where they ended up killing people. They were killing people there because they had not evacuated.
SNOW: "They were not taking prisoners" — I'm sorry, Baptist Memorial Hospital — "taking prisoners out of prison. They are leaving hotels open in downtown New Orleans. I'm very concerned about that."
BROWN: You see, Tony, I mean, when I hear you reading that, I can tell that last night when I watched the videotape again and then hearing you reading it, it really gives — it just gives me chills because that's how serious I was taking this disaster. And that's — and I was going through the checklist in my head of what I knew the problems were going to be. And I was telling my team, guys, this is going to be awful. I mean...
SNOW: Yes, as a matter of fact, since we're at that, I will go back and re-read the line that I've already read because somebody has asked about it. Shortly after that last quote you said, "My gut tells me — I told you guys my gut was that this is a bad one and big one. I still feel that way today." So you were worried about it. Meanwhile, the governor of Louisiana had decided not to declare a state of emergency. She was trying to think about it, correct? She hesitated on it.
SNOW: She did not declare mandatory evacuations when the president had requested that on the 27th of August, correct?
BROWN: Correct. That's right.
SNOW: The mayor of New Orleans was also hesitant to do evacuations because he was afraid he would get sued for lost convention business by hotels.
BROWN: Right. And, frankly, the other factor going into it was I don't think at that point he was even sure he had control of this police department to do the evacuation.
SNOW: Do you think the police department was asleep at the switch?
BROWN: They were asleep at the switch in the sense that I think that police department was — I was going to say the word `corrupt,' and that's not the right word. It was corrupt in the sense — not that people were taking bribes, but structurally it just wasn't sound.
SNOW: Would you say the same was true generally of government in New Orleans and Louisiana?
BROWN: Look, I testified under oath that I think it was dysfunctional. And if you don't — if people think that I was being outrageous when I said that, just look at what you just went through. They weren't ordering mandatory evacuations. They had people that couldn't evacuate, poor people that — I mean, think about it. They didn't want to leave their homes because it's the only safe place they know, and they don't know how to get out of the city. Well, damn it, you should have taken those buses and gotten them out of there.
SNOW: Right. Here of course, here is Ray Nagin's explanation.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
MAYOR RAY NAGIN, NEW ORLEANS: So sure we had the assets, but the drivers just weren't available.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
BROWN: You know, you've got a work force of X-thousand people, public works people, people that work at desks and stuff. It didn't make any difference at this point whether you have a commercial driver's license or not. Just get in the bus, get in the truck, get in the pickup. Get somebody out of there.
SNOW: Do you think Louisiana officials tried to make you the fall guys for their failures?
BROWN: You know, let me be real honest. I think everybody tried to make me the fall guy.
SNOW: And do you feel vindicated?
BROWN: Yes. I mean, you know, Ray Donovan, after his trial in the Reagan administration, you know, "where do I go to get my reputation back"? I'm still trying to get my reputation back because there's still those who have in their minds the fact that I was not competent and didn't know what I was doing.
And so I've got to talk to Tony Snow and other people in the world to say look, here's the truth. Here's what I was doing. I successfully handled 160 disasters prior to this. I did it the old-fashioned way. I worked my way up through FEMA. You know, I started out as the general counsel, learned all the programs.
Then the president asked me to be the deputy director after 9/11 because of my work on 9/11, and then I became the director. I worked my way up the organization. Damn it, I knew what I was doing, Tony.
SNOW: So what do you think happened in Louisiana? Why did it end up being such a mess?
BROWN: Well, and here's where I have to be totally honest: one, I made some mistakes; but two, everything that I had been predicting and trying to get Tom Ridge and Chertoff to recognize was that they were taking away — I had specifically asked for catastrophic disaster planning because FEMA had never done that. And the first place I wanted to do that planning was in New Orleans, because I knew that could be a major disaster.
SNOW: When did you first ask for that to be done in New Orleans?
SNOW: So 2003, so a full two years before the hurricane, you wanted to start game planning. Was this in the event of a hurricane?
BROWN: It was in the event of a hurricane, because we were afraid that two things could happen: either the hurricane could strike directly on New Orleans and breach the levees, or Lake Pontchartrain, on the back side of a hurricane, could begin to flood. And then, either way, you've got a system where the levees aren't going to work, the pumps aren't going to work, and you have a truly catastrophic disaster.
SNOW: Did you try to get assistance or support from elected officials in Louisiana as you were trying to put together this plan?
BROWN: Yes, and in fact, we got enough money initially to do one exercise, which identified with the city of New Orleans and the state the problems that we now see in Katrina.
SNOW: Was Ray Nagin familiar with this exercise?
BROWN: I don't think so. I don't think that — I don't think he participated.
SNOW: Was the governor familiar with this exercise?
BROWN: I don't think she was. You know, what happened in Louisiana was, the people who were involved originally in that exercise, one of them, who's name happened to be Mike Brown — Colonel Mike Brown, who was our emergency manager — was indicted for misuse of FEMA funds. So he was out of the picture. So the people who had kind of really participated weren't all necessarily around again.
SNOW: So nobody — so you had actually game-planned some of this.
BROWN: I had game-planned it because I convinced the Office of Management and Budget in the White House to give me some money to start the game planning. We did the exercise, but when I went back to say, Look, here are all the problems we've identified, now give me the money so we can do the follow up to do the planning and procedures of how to fix these things, then — and I want to be very clear about this: both Tom Ridge and Michael Chertoff refused to give me the money for that future planning.
SNOW: All right. So in other words, internal disputes: you didn't get the money, you didn't get to do the planning.
BROWN: That's right.
SNOW: Have either of them contacted you since to talk about this?
BROWN: No, you know, and I feel like I'm — you know, I'm probably on good terms with Tom Ridge because, I mean, Tom was — Tom knew how disasters worked. And if you go back to the 2004 hurricanes, Tom stayed out of my way and let me do my job. And frankly, one of the problems that we had in Hurricane Katrina was the meddling by Chertoff, who came in at one point and told me not to leave Baton Rouge, but to stay in an office in Baton Rouge and run it from there. And you can't run a disaster sitting at a desk.
SNOW: Now what other things happened? It sounds like, obviously, the two of you had strained relations. How?
BROWN: Well, we had strained relations because — I mean, I just don't think that Chertoff gets it. I mean, I'm a lawyer — I know — you know, he's a lawyer and I'm a lawyer, but until you've had that practical, in the field experience — look, I've started out in state and local government, working with a local government, building an emergency operations center, working with the police and fire departments.
I worked on 9/11. I did all those disasters. I knew what it took. Well, Chertoff was an appeals court judge, Chertoff was a DOJ lawyer, and he didn't understand the importance of being in the field with your field personnel, finding out what do you need, what is isn't working, what can I do to break up the red tape? And when he confined me to Baton Rouge, he destined me to fail.
SNOW: He destined you to fail. Do you think you deserve an apology?
BROWN: Oh, of course — from him, absolutely.
SNOW: How about from your critics on Capitol Hill?
BROWN: You know, I'd like to have it, but it's so partisan, I'm not going to get it. Although it's funny, because the Democrats see a chance to take a stab at the president, now some of the Democrats are apologizing to me.
But what really frustrates me is I know there's folks in our party and in the conservative groups that think that I'm dissing the president. And I'm not. If you read those tapes, I talk about how the president was engaged and was doing everything he could to help me. That's not where the problem lies. The problem lies within DHS and how it's operating.
SNOW: Mike Brown, can you hang on for a minute? We've got to take a quick commercial break.
SNOW: All right. We'll be back with former Federal Emergency Management Agency head, a man vindicated now by tapes that have been released of conversations on the 28th and 29th of August last year. Stay tuned, there's more to come.
SNOW: Mike Brown, former director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, kind enough to stay with us until the end of the hour. Mike, you were talking about sort of relations — strained relations between FEMA and the Department of Homeland Security. What would you recommend to fix it?
BROWN: When the president asked me when the department was created, to be on the team to create the new FEMA within DHS, at that time, I really believed that it could work. But having seen — having seen it now up close in a major disaster and now having been out of it for awhile, I've turned 180 degrees, and I think the only way to fix it is to pull FEMA out, restore it as an independent agency directly reporting to the president again, the way it worked for, you know, 29-some years prior to DHS.
And my reasoning for that is, when you think about the two missions — I mean, the mission at the Department of Homeland Security is to prevent terrorism. And there are 184,000 employees that do that — TSA and the Coast Guard and, you know, border security, and customs and all of that. They're job is to stop things from happening.
FEMA has 2,500 employees, so what's that? You know, .001 percent of the entire department —
BROWN: — who are the mop-up guys. I don't think we could ever meld those cultures together, and so I think FEMA has to be pulled out.
SNOW: You said that the Department of Homeland Security was designed to stop things from happening. Did DHS prevent you from doing anything you think could have saved lives?
BROWN: They did because, you know, there are quotes in the papers today where DHS has said, you know, there was really this fog of war and we didn't really have good intel about what was happening on the ground. And I said no, it wasn't a fog of war, it was a fog of bureaucracy. Because FEMA knows how to do these things.
SNOW: So what did they prevent you from doing?
BROWN: Well, they prevented us, one, from maintaining those relationships with state and local governments, because FEMA is not a first responder. All we do is help coordinate and help the state and locals.
BROWN: And they've broken those relationships by moving the money and the programs, the training and exercises that FEMA always did with state and locals — they've moved those out of FEMA. And that's doomed to failure.
SNOW: Was there ever a time where you said, We need to move trucks or water or personnel from this place to this place, and somebody said, No, you can't do it?
BROWN: Actually, it's the opposite: there were times when we would have certain convoys going one place — and I remember this specifically because it was the first time I had to call Chertoff and basically said, You've got to stop doing this. We had convoys going in one direction, and he had a conversation with somebody in one of the parishes and made a promise to them that he would peel some of that off and send it somewhere — and send it down to this particular parish, which totally ruined our planning and what we were trying to do.
And I had to e-mail and call him and say, "Look, you can't do that, because we in the field know what we need and what the priorities are —
SNOW: All right —
BROWN: — and those priorities are established by the state and locals; they're not established by you."
SNOW: Got to take another quick break. Mike Brown again on the other side. Got one more important question to ask. Stay tuned.
SNOW: Welcome back — 866-408-7669. Michael Brown was the designated punching bag after Hurricane Katrina roared through the Gulf Coast. He's out of government now, but he's not out of ideas.
Mike, you had told me before the break that you thought it might be smart to separate the Federal Emergency Management Agency once again, make it freestanding. If the president called you up and said, "Mike, I know it's tough, but I'd like you to come back and fix it," would you do it?
BROWN: Well, I'd love to do it, but I'd have to talk to my wife, who probably would be quite opposed to me moving back into the government.
SNOW: So you're happier where you are right now?
BROWN: Look, government pay isn't very good; I'm making some good money and enjoying life and traveling all over the country, speaking and helping some companies.
SNOW: Yeah, but in exchange for lousy compensation, you get to get your brains beaten out — come on, man!
BROWN: You're right. And look, public policy and government is in my blood and I love it and I would love to try to fix this some way and help the administration any way that I can.
SNOW: All right. Mike Brown — talk to you soon. Thanks for joining us.
BROWN: Thank you, Tony.