Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff on Wednesday defended FEMA’s decision to extend former director Michael Brown’s post-resignation employment by another 30 days.
“It’s important to allow the new people who have the responsibility ... to have access to the information we need to do better,” Chertoff told The Associated Press as he flew to view Hurricane Wilma’s damage in Florida.
“We don’t want to sacrifice the real ability to get a full picture of Mike’s experiences; we don’t want to sacrifice that ability simply in order to make an image point,” Chertoff said.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency is part of Chertoff’s department.
Brown resigned under fire as director on Sept. 12, three days after he was relieved by Chertoff of his onsite command of FEMA’s response to Hurricane Katrina. That storm killed more than 1,200 people along the Gulf Coast, flooded New Orleans and forced the evacuation of hundreds of thousands. R. David Paulison was named acting director.
Brown, heavily criticized for the federal government’s slow response to Katrina, initially was permitted to stay on the FEMA payroll for 30 days at his $148,000 annual salary. The agency recently agreed to extend his contract for another 30 days.
Russ Knocke, the Homeland Security spokesman, has said in the past that Brown was staying on to advise the department on his experience with Katrina. He said Brown has no decision-making or management responsibilities.
Rep. Gene Taylor, D-Miss., whose coastal district was among the hardest hit by Katrina, told Chertoff at a House hearing last week that it was “gross mistake” to have put Brown in charge of the agency in the first place.
“He doesn’t deserve to be on the government payroll,” Taylor said.
Brown did not immediately respond to a telephone call and e-mail seeking comment.