WASHINGTON – Embattled former FEMA director Michael Brown (search) says he was initially unaware of desperate conditions at the New Orleans Convention Center because it was not a planned Hurricane Katrina evacuation site, according to a congressional memo.
In Katrina's aftermath, thousands of people gathered at the convention center, where adequate food, water and other supplies were lacking and where violence was common.
The memo, obtained by The Associated Press (search), was written by a Republican congressional aide who attended a 90-minute briefing Monday with Brown, who resigned as director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (search) on Sept. 12.
Brown announced his resignation three days after Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff (search) removed him from overseeing the onsite disaster response, and was highly criticized for being a Bush administration political appointee without deep emergency management experience. He denied accusations that he padded his resume.
Brown, who ran FEMA for more than two years, has a two-week "transition" remaining at the agency, during which he will advise the department on "some of his views on his experience with Katrina," Homeland security spokesman Russ Knocke (search) said. He is receiving full pay.
The congressional memo details Brown's self-defense — and attacks on other officials — in managing the response to the catastrophic storm and flooding that killed more than 1,000 people in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama.
Brown "acknowledged that he made mistakes," said a second Republican staff member who attended the briefing.
The memo describes Brown's views on missteps at every level of government in Katrina's aftermath. Among the revelations:
_Brown said he should have sought help more quickly from the Pentagon after Katrina hit, and expressed regret "that he did not start screaming" for the military's involvement sooner. The first substantial numbers of active-duty troops responding to the Gulf Coast were sent on Sept. 3, five days after the storm hit.
_Brown said Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco and New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin "sparred during the crisis and could not work together cooperatively." He also described Blanco as "indecisive" and refusing to cede control of the Louisiana National Guard to federal authorities because "it would have undercut her image politically."
Aides to Blanco and Nagin could not be immediately reached Monday night.
_Brown did not take any official notes during conference calls he ran with state and federal authorities and "just assumed that agencies would follow up on taskings resulting from the calls."
_Brown said a federal takeover of emergency management responsibilities would be a "crutch" for local and state governments and could lead to future lapses in preparedness.
He did not respond to several telephone calls Monday.
Democrats have largely boycotted the congressional investigation. Though the inquiry chaired by Rep. Tom Davis, R-Va., was meant to be bipartisan, Democrats say Republican lawmakers cannot fairly investigate the GOP White House, and are calling for an independent commission.