Former FEMA Director Michael Brown Questions Decision to Rebuild New Orleans' Levee System

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This is a rush transcript from "Your World With Neil Cavuto," September 1, 2008. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

NEIL CAVUTO, HOST: So far, $3 billion has gone into this levee system to protect a city that is essentially under sea level.

My next guest questioning how wise it really is to keep adding money to such a phenomenon.

Michael Brown in New York.

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So, Michael, the former head of FEMA, I should say, during Katrina, you are saying we are pouring good money after bad?

MICHAEL BROWN, FORMER FEDERAL EMERGENCY MANAGEMENT AGENCY DIRECTOR: Well, I think we need to have a public debate about it, Neil.

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To what extent are we going to rebuild the levees? And where are we going to report them? Look at Catherine's report. There is concern now about whether that levee is going to, you know, top, and if it begins to top, whether or not it breached. So, let's have a debate about the extent to which we do rebuild the New Orleans.


Now, I would be curious, while I still have you here, Michael, to grade the administration, the federal response thus far — obviously, the administration cognizant of the attacks it received three year ago, after Katrina. How do you think they're doing now?

BROWN: Well, actually, I think it is phenomenal.

You know, I gave a speech in Rome, Italy, and a kid stood up in the back of the room and said, you Americans only have lessons observed. You don't have lessons learned.

And I think, here, we have some lessons learned in the case that, you know, stop and think about what Catherine just talked about. We did an evacuation of a — the mayor did the evacuation, like he was supposed to. Bobby Jindal is doing exactly what he was supposed to.

Had they not done that, Catherine would be reporting right now about people on rooftops that the USAW, or the urban search and rescue, teams could not get to because of those winds. And that is exactly what we had three years ago.

So, the fact that they did the evacuation, like FEMA policy calls for, the mayor and the government got in front of this, I say, you know, my hat is off to Bobby Jindal for doing that. And I want to dampen down right now — if anyone criticizes him in the future, if it turns out that the storm surge isn't as bad, and the levees don't break, I don't want anyone to criticize him for saying, well, then why did you call for the evacuation? Why did I have to leave?

That is what leaders are supposed to do. And Bobby did it.

CAVUTO: Let me ask you while I have you here, Michael. And I was thinking of you when I heard the remarks from President Clinton last week when I was in Denver. In his speech, he referred to Katrina. Have a listen to this.




CLINTON: My fellow Democrats, America can do better than that.




CAVUTO: Katrina and cronyism, those are pretty strong words.

BROWN: And they will be with me for the rest of my life. But here's the — here are the facts.

I spent 20 years in municipal government, successfully handled 160 presidentially declared disasters, everything from 9/11, the tsunami, four hurricanes in Florida during an election, 160 successes, and one failure. You know, that is just the way it is. So, you know, President Clinton, they're going to do what they're going to do.

CAVUTO: Well, you know, Michael, talk to Napoleon. I feel it.


CAVUTO: And, you know, Michael, we have said on this show, history and records have proven and vindicated you, that you were warning very early on not only about the severity of the storm, but the need for cooperation among all authorities, local, state, federal.

And you said that was a problem that did not appear to be a problem now. I think people kind of took their cues from what you said then, and said it's better, regardless of whether you're Democrat or Republican, to be a human being and get on the same page.

That appears — appears — to have been the case here. Lesson going forward?

BROWN: Oh, I think, Neil, the lesson going forward is, let's pay attention to these storms. And it's not just the storms in Louisiana. It's fires in the Mid — floods in the Midwest, fires out West. It's the potential for another terrorist attack. It's just the everyday kind of technological society that we live in that any time can be subjected to crisis. It's CEOs learning how to manage crises and managing those kinds of crises when they occur.

We can learn so many things from this. So, let's — let's listen to that kid that stood up in Rome, Italy.

CAVUTO: All right.

BROWN: Let's not just observe lessons. Let's learn these lessons.

CAVUTO: Well, you know, Michael, you got a bum rap, but, in retrospect, a pretty good record. People don't say that enough.

But, Michael Brown, the former head of FEMA during Katrina, thank you very much for joining us.

BROWN: Thank you, Neil.

CAVUTO: All right.


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