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Ex-FEMA director says he deserves blame

Ex-FEMA Director Michael Brown said Wednesday that he deserved much of the blame for the government’s failures after Hurricane Katrina.
Ex-Fema Head Michael Brown Testifies At House Katrina Committee
Former Federal Emergency Management Agency Director Michael Brown, left, speaks to an attorney during his testimony in September before a House committee.Joe Raedle / Getty Images file
/ Source: The Associated Press

Former FEMA Director Michael Brown said Wednesday that he deserved much 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 sharp 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.”

On Wednesday, he told a gathering of broadcast and National Weather Service meteorologists that he failed to delegate responsibility and instead 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.

More money needed
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.”