Michael Brown, who lost his job as director of the US Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) because of Hurricane Katrina, today said his biggest regret a year later was that he was not candid enough about the lack of a coherent federal response plan.
“There was no plan. … Three years ago, we should have done catastrophic planning,” Brown said, charging that the Bush administration and his department head, Michael Chertoff, “would not give me the money to do that kind of planning”.
As levees broke down at Katrina’s strike against New Orleans and people were forced from their homes, Brown said he sought futilely to get the 82nd Airborne Division into the city quickly.
Appearing on NBC’s Today show, he was asked about positive statements he had made at the time about how Washington would come through for the storm victims, rather than levelling with the country about how bad the situation actually was.
“Those were White House talking points,” Brown replied. "And to this day, I think that was my biggest mistake.”
Brown said that at many intervals during the week the storm hit, he found himself asking: “Where in the hell is the help?”
“I have to confess … you want to protect the president when you’re a political appointee,” he said, "so you’re torn between telling the absolute truth and relying on those talking points. To this day, that is my biggest regret.”
Brown said he had been made the scapegoat for the government’s slow response “because I’m the low man on the totem pole”. He said he thought that President George Bush and Chertoff, the homeland security secretary, should have shared in the blame.
He denied that he lacked qualifications to direct the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
“That’s just baloney. I spent more time in my career in local government and in state government and in emergency management experience,” Brown said. “But what I regret the most: I let the American public down. I am a fighter ... but for some reason, with Katrina crashing in on me, I didn’t do it.”