Katrina: FEMA Director Brown Pushed Aside

FEMA head Michael Brown has been recalled to Washington to “oversee the big picture” while someone else runs the Hurricane Katrina relief effort.

FEMA director Brown recalled to Washington (CNN)

Coast Guard Vice Adm. Thad Allen will replace Michael Brown, the embattled FEMA director, as the on-site head of hurricane relief operations in the Gulf Coast, a senior administration official told CNN. Brown will head back to Washington from Louisiana to oversee the big picture, the official said. (Full Story) Allen has been acting as an assistant to Brown in the Gulf region.

Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff is expected to make the announcement at a news conference in Baton Rouge on Friday afternoon.

In other words, Brown has been fired.

Update: FEMA Chief Relieved of Katrina Command (AP)

Federal Emergency Management Agency Director Michael Brown is being relieved of his command of the Bush administration’s Hurricane Katrina onsite relief efforts, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff announced Friday. He will be replaced by Coast Guard Vice Adm. Thad W. Allen, who was overseeing New Orleans relief and rescue efforts, Chertoff said.

Earlier, Brown confirmed the switch. Asked if he was being made a scapegoat for a federal relief effort that has drawn widespread and sharp criticism, Brown told The Associated Press after a long pause: “By the press, yes. By the president, No.”

“Michael Brown has done everything he possibly could to coordinate the federal response to this unprecedented challenge,” Chertoff told reporters in Baton Rouge, La. Chertoff sidestepped a question on whether the move was the first step toward Brown’s leaving FEMA. But a source close to Brown, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the FEMA director had been considering leaving after the hurricane season ended in November and that Friday’s action virtually assures his departure.

[…]

Asked if the move was a demotion, Brown said: “No. No. I’m still the director of FEMA.” He said Chertoff made the decision to move him out of Louisiana. It was not his own decision, Brown said. “I’m going to go home and walk my dog and hug my wife and, maybe get a good Mexican meal and a stiff margarita and a full night’s sleep. And then I’m going to go right back to FEMA and continue to do all I can to help these victims,” Brown said. “This story’s not about me. This story’s about the worst disaster of the history of our country that stretched every government to its limit and now we have to help these victims.”

Such are the hazards of public life. One presumes Brown has put in incredibly hard hours and done his best here. Clearly, he wasn’t particularly well trained for the position; it’s not knowable whether someone with better credentials could have done any better, though.

Ireland Online’s headline sums it up nicely: “Hurricane claims first political casualty

FILED UNDER: General
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is a Security Studies professor at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. cirby says:

    …fired into overseeing the efforts for Hurricane Ophelia, apparently.

    One more time: the head of FEMA doesn’t “run” relief efforts. He signs papers and checks and does bad press conferences. The people who do the actual work are a couple of levels down, or work for other agencies. FEMA is a combination checkbook and Rolodex when it comes to this stuff.

    So far, almost everything that’s been blamed on FEMA was actually done (or not done) by other agencies, mostly at the state and local level. Meanwhile, the stuff that FEMA did right has gone unremarked (like their getting the evacuation buses into NO so fast from hundreds of miles away).

  2. anjin-san says:

    Right, there’s no way of knowing if someone who was actually qualified for the job could have done better.

    OK James, lets say you need surgery for a life-threatening health problem. You just have the first guy who you find in the yellow pages do the cutting right? I mean there’s know way of knowing if someone who has actual expertise could do a better job…

  3. highsig says:
  4. cirby says:

    anjin-san:

    “Actually qualified?” What sort of qualifications do you think someone needs to be a figurehead and paper-shuffler?

    He’s the head of a government agency, not a first responder. If he sucked so bad, then why didn’t these “shortcomings” show up in places other than in New Orleans? Mississippi is doing much, much better, even though they got hit much, much harder. Federal money is flowing all over the place (the actual job of FEMA in this sort of situation). Federal agencies are communicating very well (the only big comm fgailure has been between the completely inept Louisiana folks). The overall Federal response has been faster than any other major disaster in history. The buses that actually got people out of New Orleans were provided by FEMA at short notice. Hundreds of thousands of people are getting financial help straight from the checkbooks of FEMA.

    Seriously- what do you think FEMA did wrong, other than not have the politicians in Louisiana removed from office before the storm hit? If you don’t have specific, real examples, then you’re just blowing smoke.

    “Sending in the Guard” or “airdropping aid” aren’t two viable choices, by the way, one because it’s illegal and the other because it wouldn’t work.

  5. spencer says:

    Sending in the guard is completely legal for the President.

    It is illegal for anyone else.

  6. anjin-san says:

    Cirby,

    Are you kidding? Why would someone need qualifications to be head of disaster relief for the United States of America? Hell lets just stick the first guy who raises his hand in the job. I guess the CEO of a major corporation needs no qualifications either.

    Why does New Orleans present special challenges? Maybe because it is a major urban area?

    Tell me Cirby, since “Brownie” was doing such a bang-up job why was he relieved? Is Bush scared of Nancy Pelosi?

    No one doubts that city and state leaders did a crappy job. Why are you so intent on giving Bush yet another free pass?

  7. anjin-san says:

    Cirby,

    Lets extend your “logic”. Why do we need qualified generals in the Army? After all, enlisted men and junior officers do the fighting. As long as they know their stuff we are sure to win the battle regardless of the quality of leadership right?

    For that matter, why do the leadership failures of the mayor & the Governor matter? They are just paper-shufflers. As long as the first responders take care of business all is well…

    The dumbing down of America marches forward.

  8. Herb says:

    This sure shows what kind of a leader Chertoff is, He is the one that should have replaced if anyone was. I guess as far as Chertoff is concerned, the buck doesn’t stop at his office.

    I don’t think the dismissal of Brown or anyone else for that matter should have occurred.

  9. Ken Taylor says:

    I think Brown’s remarks said it all when asked by a reporter if he was being used as a scape goat, “by the press yes, by the President no!” The failure for rescue and recovery falls in the lap of Governor Kathleen Blanco and her corrupt state officials who squandered monies, (1.5 billion) earmarked for the levees and failed to even declare a state of emergency until TWO days AFTER the storm and then told Bush the following FRIDAY that she needed 24 hours to make up her mind about federal help. Beginning with Blanco heads should roll over the inept way state and local officials handled the Katrina disaster!

  10. Manuel Quinones says:

    I live in Florida and was here for the 4 Hurricanes that we were affected with. FEMA did an excellent job handling the situation.

    It is quite obvious that Michael Brown is a scapegoat for the administration and the state government of LA.

  11. DL says:

    It does raise the possibility of Bush ordering new red, white, and blue jumpsuits for all his appointments with big targets on the back!

  12. Herb says:

    Thinking about this thing last night, I have now concluded that this whole fiasco was nothing more that back stabbing politics at its best. I think that Chertoff listened to that Coast Guard Admiral and let Brown go at the urging of the Admiral. If the Admiral was so good, it was his job to make sure that Brown looked good in this disaster. I think that Chertoff is the one that is in over his head. Remember it was Chertoff that sat on his rear end for 2 days after the Hurricane hit. In fact, he stated in a press conf. 2 days after Katrina that everything was going great.

    I think that what we are now seeing is the result of bureaucrats and Bureaucracy regulations at its worst and everyone associated with the bureaucracy trying to CYA.

  13. Tom says:

    I have been an emergency management director for over 10 years. FEMA was started back in the days of Jimmy Carter because the Department of Defense, who “coordinated” national disaster response at that time, could not do the job. During most of the later ’90’s, James Lee Witt, a guy that worked his way up through the Emergency Management ranks from the local and state level, ran the department. It was a fine-oil machine ran by a guy that had “been there-done that”. I cringed when President Bush placed his campaign manager at the FEMA helm after he took office. That, topped with the fact that FEMA has become a orphaned child looking for a family since the advent of the homeland security department, has created most of the mess. FEMA needs to be stand-alone, left alone, and ran by folks that know how to prepare for, respond to, and recover from a natural or man-made disaster. The government has to remember that we need a “all hazards approach, not just terrorism-terrorism-terrorism.