Brown Rats Out DHS

by TChris

The Washington Post provides new information about Brownie's (heck of a) job at FEMA. It turns out that Michael Brown warned Homeland Security's Tom Ridge that Ridge's plans for FEMA would "shatter agency morale" and "break longstanding, effective and tested relationships with states and first responder stakeholders" while making a mockery of FEMA's motto: A Nation Prepared.

The inevitable result, he wrote, would be "an ineffective and uncoordinated response" to a terrorist attack or a natural disaster.

At least Brownie got that right. The explanation for FEMA's miserable response to Katrina reaches beyond Brown's legendary incompetence.

Brown's well-chronicled gaffes in Louisiana had less impact on FEMA than his little-known power struggles in Washington. Brown lost almost all of them -- partly because he was widely despised at DHS for his relentless infighting -- and FEMA paid a price in money, manpower, missions and prestige.

The lengthy linked article is based in part on information provided by Brown, who cannot escape blame for his inept and uncaring response to Katrina. But Brown's complaints aren't simply a self-serving attempt to salvage a reputation. The Post cites evidence that Brown complained about "the absence of effective leadership" and "complete lack of accountability for results" at DHS in the months leading up to Katrina. Brown's complaints point to a larger problem in the Bush administration: the inability to manage the inevitable power struggles that followed the creation of the Department of Homeland Security, or to recognize and cure the adverse impact that turf wars had on FEMA.

In many ways, Brown is a cautionary tale of what can happen to Washington officials who make mistakes in the public eye after making enemies behind the scenes. Brown spent two years trying to use his contacts with White House officials to undercut DHS, but the White House rarely backed him, and DHS leaders responded by shifting FEMA's responsibilities and resources to more cooperative agencies.

Ridge stripped FEMA's power over billions of dollars worth of preparedness grants as well as the creation of a national disaster response plan. Most of the agency's top staff quit. And after he arrived at DHS in February, Chertoff decided to take away the rest of FEMA's preparedness duties.

Brown deserved to lose his job, but so do others. Let's hope this story will renew the public's interest in seeking accountability for the administration's inadequate response to Katrina.

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    Re: Brown Rats Out DHS (none / 0) (#1)
    by Dadler on Fri Dec 23, 2005 at 03:28:43 PM EST
    If he were so disgusted, why did he keep the job? Money? Loyalty? What? These people just confuse me more and more. Doesn't it seem reasonable that if he thought the agency he ran was being rendered powerless that he'd resign in protest and make a lot of noise about it? Did the position and title mean THAT much to him?

    Re: Brown Rats Out DHS (none / 0) (#2)
    by Dadler on Fri Dec 23, 2005 at 03:29:39 PM EST
    I should add that I do believe so many more officials need to be held accountable. Brown deserved much blame, and still does, but he's got a lot of it to share with others.

    Re: Brown Rats Out DHS (none / 0) (#3)
    by Sailor on Fri Dec 23, 2005 at 04:16:37 PM EST
    Dadler, while I'm no fan of the incompetence in the DHS, and moving FEMA out of its cabinet position was obviously another bushistic move, I really don't thinhk it's fair to ask why an obviousl synchophant would quit the best paying job he ever had. Aside from the whole swiftboating thing that happens to every 'enemy of the state';-)

    Re: Brown Rats Out DHS (none / 0) (#4)
    by BigTex on Fri Dec 23, 2005 at 06:49:51 PM EST
    Brown was set to step down this year anyway. That is part of why the reponse was so bad, the leadership was about to transition and things slipped into an autopiolet.

    Re: Brown Rats Out DHS (none / 0) (#5)
    by Che's Lounge on Fri Dec 23, 2005 at 06:56:33 PM EST
    Big Tex, You really believe that's it? Nicely packaged for the holidays.

    Re: Brown Rats Out DHS (none / 0) (#6)
    by scarshapedstar on Fri Dec 23, 2005 at 06:59:29 PM EST
    Brown was set to step down this year anyway. That is part of why the reponse was so bad, the leadership was about to transition and things slipped into an autopiolet.
    Wouldn't you know it - coincidence #363312968791 of the Bush administration.

    Re: Brown Rats Out DHS (none / 0) (#7)
    by john horse on Fri Dec 23, 2005 at 07:16:47 PM EST
    Big Tex, Brown's memo pointing out that the Bush administration's plans for FEMA would "shatter agency morale" and "break longstanding, effective and tested relationships with states and first responder stakeholders" was written in September 15, 2003, two years before Katrina. Your theory about the poor response being due to Brown planning to leave before the storm hit (and that is assuming he did) is like a New Orleans levee.

    Re: Brown Rats Out DHS (none / 0) (#8)
    by jimcee on Fri Dec 23, 2005 at 07:32:28 PM EST
    What I find so suprising is that there would be in-fighting between gov't agencies and political appointees. Who'd a thunk it. Probably never happened before, no, never. A Slam-Dunk! No one ever b*llsh*tted thier way into a job, especially in politics. If there were a general Gov't investigation of the the in-fighting/backstabbing/ buck-passing/incompetence in every department the only competent people left would be the janitors.

    Re: Brown Rats Out DHS (none / 0) (#9)
    by BigTex on Fri Dec 23, 2005 at 07:40:35 PM EST
    Che - since the report saying so in the aftermath of Katrina cited email sent by Brown as the storm was threatening, yeah I believe it. Had it the report of his planning on leaving come up in the aftermath of his ratting out, then no I wouldn't.

    Re: Brown Rats Out DHS (none / 0) (#10)
    by jimakaPPJ on Sat Dec 24, 2005 at 11:34:26 AM EST
    The question remains. Why did it work in Florida in 2004 and not work in NO and LA in 2005? Could it be the local officals absolute inabilities, and refusal to get out of the way?
    Behind the scenes, a power struggle emerged, as federal officials tried to wrest authority from Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Babineaux Blanco (D). Shortly before midnight Friday, the Bush administration sent her a proposed legal memorandum asking her to request a federal takeover of the evacuation of New Orleans, a source within the state's emergency operations center said Saturday. The administration sought unified control over all local police and state National Guard units reporting to the governor. Louisiana officials rejected the request after talks throughout the night, concerned that such a move would be comparable to a federal declaration of martial law. Some officials in the state suspected a political motive behind the request. "Quite frankly, if they'd been able to pull off taking it away from the locals, they then could have blamed everything on the locals," said the source, who does not have the authority to speak publicly.

    Re: Brown Rats Out DHS (none / 0) (#11)
    by BigTex on Sat Dec 24, 2005 at 02:48:18 PM EST
    Poker - good to see someone else pounding the drum of common sense over this issue. Another question to ask is why did it work for all the other hurricanes in 05 except for Katrina. Three other major hurricanes hit the US in 2005. The only failure was Katrina, though Wilma was a bit slow. Still Dennis and Rita, both major hurricanes at landfall, FEMA worked well. This is more than just a simple incompenence issue, Brown was head for Dennis, and not gone long enough when Rita came ashore to have the new leader make a difference. As long as people continue to look to place blame with Brown, the root cause will never be addressed. That is equally a shame as what happened with Katrina.

    Re: Brown Rats Out DHS (none / 0) (#12)
    by Sailor on Sat Dec 24, 2005 at 03:01:48 PM EST
    The question remains. Why did it work in Florida in 2004 and not work in NO and LA in 2005?
    Short answer: Uhhh, because the prez's brother needed to deliver the state!? Long answer: It didn't 'work' in FL. They handed out money to voters, not victims. If you think every other 2005 natural disaster worked you haven't been reading how bushco's selected, elected rethug gov has been complaining constantly about the fed response.

    Re: Brown Rats Out DHS (none / 0) (#13)
    by BigTex on Sat Dec 24, 2005 at 09:34:02 PM EST
    Well Sailor, having gone through Rita 1st hand, FEMA worked to get supplies to us quickly. I fled from Houston to the TX/LA state line (real bright idea in hindsight - note the sarcasm) and ended up in the NE eyewall about 100 miles inland. We had a supply checkpoint set up LEO come check on our wellbeing. All within 72 hours. Although I currently reside in Houston, I am still domiciled in the area where the storm came in, and have been back (and am back there now) several times, including in the direct aftermath. When I first went back a few days after the storm to secure property (thankfully damage was light) FEMA had already set up relief centers in my hometown, and the cleanup was well underway, in an organized manner. First the National Guard was clearing the streets of debris. Then the tree cutting services were following to clear trees from around power lines. Then electric crews were following. The vast majority of the area had power back in 7-10 days. Granted a few areas were without power for about a month, but those were in the very rural areas. Relief supplies were present and flowing to those who came back to secure peoperty. Within a couple of weeks FEMA claims centers were set up both back home, and in the areas where people fled. Was the effort perfect? No, but no relief effort ever is. However, was it a failed effort? Not by any means. No one went without supplies for more than 3 days before a wellfare check was done on their property. Supplies flowed early and often both to the areas along the coast and inland. Sure some people are unhappy, but you need to remember, that most of the complaints you hear from Texas aren't about Rita relief, they are about the lack of room to place Katrina refugees. Certinally some Rita refugees are caught in the net, but if not for Katrina they would not be caught in the net. We all agree that Katrina response was horrid. The trick is to sepearate Katrina from Rita response. From an actual emergency management aspect, Rita was superb. No direct deaths from Rita's landfall (though there may have been some inland deaths), supplies came early, and wellfare checks came early, and the problems to be found are by in large as a result of mixing with Katrina. While I agree FEMA should not be a part of DHS, the problem is deeper than Mike Brown. To not see and address that is to allow the mistakes to repeat. That is the bigger problem. We can't bring back the dead from Katrina, we can prevent the same from happening again... if we are willing to take a hard look at what happened and make the needed changes to prevent a repeat.

    Re: Brown Rats Out DHS (none / 0) (#14)
    by scarshapedstar on Sat Dec 24, 2005 at 10:34:56 PM EST
    What happened was the frigging levee broke. Sorry to disappoint you Republicans, but we're starting to find out that most people didn't die from incompetent-Democrat-induced dehydration, but from drowning, because the levee broke. A state as small and as broke as ours can't do much to fix them, and God knows it would have been nice for Congress to appropriate a tiny fraction of the $9 billion that's outright disappeared in Iraq by now, not to mention the "$100 load of laundry" Halliburton contracts, but hey, gotta have priorities.

    Re: Brown Rats Out DHS (none / 0) (#15)
    by Ernesto Del Mundo on Sun Dec 25, 2005 at 08:57:44 AM EST
    Tex, we been over this several times. You may want to consider population density and the fact that New Orleans was below sea level. Start from there. You're comparing apples to oranges, like saying the response to an F2 tornado going through sparsely populated swampland is comparable to that for an F5 going through downtown Dallas and several trailer parks to boot. The feds were overwhelmed by the magnitude of the response needed. They were definitely not prepared. Which puts the lie to the whole homeland security/war on terror effort. What if terrorists had blown up the levees? Would the response have been any faster? Would less people have drowned? No, because Bush has preferred to spend money on Iraq or tax cuts for his sponsors. One more item, the popularly held notion amongst conservatives that Negro Democrats are the source of the New Orleans disaster seems less valid when you consider that many lower class white folks died waiting for FEMA in Mississippi, as well.

    Re: Brown Rats Out DHS (none / 0) (#16)
    by squeaky on Wed Jan 25, 2006 at 02:11:33 PM EST
    Brown may have lost his job , but he was kept on salary as a consultant,to the tune of $148,000. He was kept on in order to aid in the investigation of the govs response to Katrina. He is refusing to cooperate now.... of course after he cashed his check. BTW he is available to speak about Katrina at a firm near you.... just send him a check first, a big one.

    Re: Brown Rats Out DHS (none / 0) (#17)
    by squeaky on Wed Jan 25, 2006 at 02:12:53 PM EST
    Oh, here is the link think progress