Katrina: FEMA Director Mike Brown’s Resume

TIME magazine asks, “How Reliable Is Brown’s Resume?” Apparently, not very.

Most notably, his online bio claims a stint as “an assistant city manager with emergency services oversight” when, in reality, he was an assistant to the city manager, with no oversight responsibilities at all, while he was a college student. Other discrepencies are noted on a FindLaw bio, although it’s not clear what the source of those errors are and they have little bearing on his fitness to run FEMA.

Still, aside from a stint as the FEMA Deputy immediately before taking on the head role, Brown clearly had little experience with emergency management. Indeed, he had little experience with management, period. Readers can draw their own conclusions as to whether he’s a fast learner.

At any rate, this is yet another case where the appointment of people on the basis of service to their political party rather than their experience makes no sense. One doesn’t want the head of NASA or the head of FEMA to be a Joe Schmoe with no expertise in the highly technical functions of their agencies.

This story has created a swarm of responses as collected by Memeorandum, most by the Usual Suspects. Even those from the right of the spectrum, though, are concerned.

    Steven Taylor notes that Brown has done just fine in dozens of previous disasters but is nonetheless troubled by the resume issues.

    Mark Kleiman notes that lying on one’s resume to get a federal job is a felony. Of course, there’s no evidence that misrepresenting jobs he had in college helped him get a major appointment like this.

    Betsy Newmark notes the irony that President Bush may be reluctant to fire Brown because of the shrill charges of Nancy Pelosi and company.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies 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.


  1. Ok, enough of the “blame game.” Brownie is doing a superb job. Given his performance and Bush’s pattern for promoting people based upon their political connections and incompetence, it is likely that Michael B. Brown will be Bush’s appointment for the new Supreme Court vacancy–either that or he will be awarded a Presidential Medal of Freedom.

  2. Anderson says:

    So Newmark thinks it’s Pelosi’s fault that Brown still has a job. Wow. Right up there with Karl Rove, Newmark.

  3. Steven Plunk says:

    There is no convincing evidence of a FEMA failure here. Sure the response could have been better, it always could be better, but we got what we paid for. This is merely a way to mask the huge local and state failures in disaster planning, implementation, and relief.

    Everyone knew FEMA would take 72-96 hours to provide relief and that is how it pretty much went. The real tragedies of the storm were a result of local incompetence. The superdome, convention center, failure to utilize the busses. FEMA had nothing to do with those.

    While FEMA seems useless in many ways blaming the administrator in charge for things he could not do is pointless. Using the resume as a justification for that blame is a form of ad hominem argument.

    The critics would better spend time looking at actual failures of the system and ways to make it better. Just saying it wasn’t good enough serves no one.

  4. Herb says:

    I wouldn’t be afraid to bet that 95% of all resumes for any job are spotted with BS. If Brown’s resume is stretched a little here or there, he is abiding with the norm.

    I will also add that any company that only reviews a resume for any job, is not seeking the most talented person for the opening or has a very shorted HR dept.

  5. McGehee says:

    I defy anyone to find an operation by an outfit with both the words “federal” and “agency” in its name that wasn’t chronically screwed up in the best of times.

    FEMA has been a mostly adequate organizational support for the real disaster response work, but it’s still bureaucratic and “mostly adequate” would be high praise if it could be applied to the DMV or the Social Security Administration — neither of which has the kind of obstacles to its operation that any disaster-response agency has.

    The surprise isn’t that FEMA makes mistakes and exhibits confusion at times. The surprise is that people are surprised that FEMA makes mistakes and exhibits confusion at times.

    And I speak as someone who called Brown a dolt very early in the New Orleans situation.

  6. Anderson says:

    Steven completely ignores that DHS took responsibility for coordinating disaster/attack response at all levels. FEMA failed to do anything of the kind.

    As for McGehee’s cynicism–look, I like your comments in general & you’re a great guy, but this is too serious for us to shrug and go “it’s the government, what do you expect?” We’re talking fundamental issues of national security here. Considering how abysmally our gov’t acted here, it seems nonsensical to say we can’t do better. Maybe if we appointed & funded guys who actually know how to do their job & try to do it, for instance?

  7. McGehee says:

    Anderson, the only reason anybody is all up in arms over FEMA this time is not because it’s performing worse than it ever has. It’s because the guy in charge is a Bush appointee.

    I don’t know if you can call it cynicism when I point out that human beings and their institutions have certain insurmountable limitations. Nor am I merely sniping at the government for the sake of sniping at the government — for one thing my wife is a federal employee, and for another you get chronic screw-ups in private organizations too.

    I haven’t seen anything that convinces me FEMA is doing any worse with this situation than it did with Hugo or Andrew — that can’t be attributed more to unique logistical challenges rather than particular weaknesses of personnel.

    Brown has said some dumb things. Apparently he padded his resume. Taking him off Katrina is highly unlikely to make a significant difference except in how huis critics feel about themselves. Firing him, if he gets fired, won’t make a significant improvement in FEMA’s ability to respond to the next disaster.

    That’s not cynicism. That’s a legitimate expectation based on what I know.

  8. Bachbone says:

    Look out for the feeding frenzy that follows this blood in the water. Let’s hope that some GOP leader has the guts to nick one of the head sharks in the hope that (s)he’ll become bait for the next attack.

  9. anjin-san says:

    It’s true McGhee, no one is up in arms because its clear that 4 years & tens of billions of dollars after 9/11 that the federal government is unready to relieve a major urban area that suffers a catastrophic terrorist attack.

    No one is up in arms because of the BS excuses we heard for failure. “No one foresaw this” “We could not get in” “The right forms were not filled out”.

    I would be delighted if Bush had seized the reins and kicked butt in this crisis. I don’t want to live in a country where the president is an incompetent buck passer…

  10. Lurking Observer says:

    Simple questions for anjin-san and Anderson:

    What is your disaster preparedness?

    Do you have 3-5 days of food and water stocked? Flashlight? Portable radio?

    Do you know where and how your spouse/sig-O is supposed to be, in event you’re separated? How you’ll get in touch with each other?

    Do you have basic contact info for each other, not just home and work, but alternate site?

    Do you have a will?

    Apparently, if you don’t, it’s FEMA’s fault.

  11. odograph says:

    Strikes me, Nancy is sounding a little less “shrill” as the facts line up.

  12. DICK MOON says:

    Michael Brown should be fired (it would be nice if he had the ethical courage to resign. Reassigning him to be in charge of ALL planning is outrageous

  13. DICK MOON says:

    Michael Brown should be fired (it would be nice if he had the ethical courage to resign. Reassigning him to be in charge of ALL planning is outrageous

  14. alchemist says:

    ‘I wouldn’t be afraid to bet that 95% of all resumes for any job are spotted with BS. If Brown’s resume is stretched a little here or there, he is abiding with the norm.
    ‘ -Herb

    Did you read the article??? Let me give you some other fine points…
    Under the “honors and awards” section of his profile at FindLaw.com — which is information on the legal website provided by lawyers or their offices—he lists “Outstanding Political Science Professor, Central State University”. However, Brown “wasn’t a professor here, he was only a student here,” says Charles Johnson, News Bureau Director in the University Relations office at the University of Central Oklahoma (formerly named Central State University). “He may have been an adjunct instructor,” says Johnson, but that title is very different from that of “professor.”

    Brown states that from 1983 to the present he has been director of the Oklahoma Christian Home, a nursing home in Edmond. But an administrator with the Home told TIME that Brown is “not a person that anyone here is familiar with.” …However, a veteran employee at the center since 1981 says Brown “was never director here, was never on the board of directors, was never executive director. He was never here in any capacity. I never heard his name mentioned here.”

    Brown’s FindLaw profile lists a wide range of areas of legal practice, from estate planning to family law to sports. However, one former colleague does not remember Brown’s work as sterling. Stephen Jones, a prominent Oklahoma lawyer who was lead defense attorney on the Timothy McVeigh case, was Brown’s boss for two-and-a-half years in the early ’80s. “He did mainly transactional work, not litigation,” says Jones. “There was a feeling that he was not serious and somewhat shallow.” Jones says when his law firm split, Brown was one of two staffers who was let go.

    Doesn’t the goverment background check these things? When applying to goverment agency that oversees national security, claiming (falsely) that you have the neccessary experience prevents qualified applicants from doing the job correctly, and hurts our national security.

    It doesn’t matter whose fault it was in Louisiana(he could have even done a spectacular job, and the same thing is true). Nepotism is dangerous on both sides of the aisle, and it should be rooted out and removed.