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September 07, 2005

Why is Michael Brown still in charge?

As I write, nine days after Katrina descended on the Gulf Coast, we're all busy helping.

Evacuees from stricken New Orleans began arriving today in the Quad-Cities, one of the numberless caring communities taking them. We have firefighters and equipment en route, probably there when you read this. People busy piling up supplies the new-comers will need, or asking how to give, as everybody seems eager to do. A long and growing list of fund-raising events appears in the Dispatch/Argus each day.

Pretty much the same all across a country that moves pretty smartly when ordinary folks are out to fill a desperate need.

Too bad we're saddled with an "emergency" agency that can't do the same.

Or did you not see any of the the four days' worth of television coverage of the horrific scenes where dying people waited for help?

Didn't you wonder why, if all those reporters and all their equipment made it to the critical place, the government couldn't get some supplies in and people out?

Lord, the Quad-Cities could have sent the MetroLink fleet, with a couple of tanker trucks hauling fuel, and gotten those people out faster. Would have been glad to do it, too, if we'd had a clue nobody else was going to. So would have scores of other places much closer than we are.

Mike Grchan or Gib Cady or Dennis Conard or any other county sheriff within 1,000 miles would have done it better than the feds.

Which brings us to Michael D. Brown, who, in the Department of Homeland Security, is Under Secretary of Emergency Preparedness and Response. He is in charge of the agency whose mission statement proclaims it "ensures the seamless integration of the federal government when an incident exceeds local or state capabilities," which Katrina very clearly did.

Mr. Brown's agency failed it's mission, on national television, in front of a world-wide audience. It failed. Congress is investigating. So's the President. Bring it on, as he might say.

That Mr. Brown holds his position through cronyism, rather than resume, is all over the public record now, so I won't belabor the point. ( femafailures.blogspot.com is one of the many places to find a comprehensive review of the record.)

At this point, though, let Mr. Brown speak. Following is a memo he sent his boss, Home Security Secretary Michael Chertoff on Monday, while the storm raged in New Orleans and Mississippi. It is, blessedly, relatively brief.


Office of The Under Secretary
U.S. Department of Homeland Security 500 C Street SW
Washington DC 20472
August 29, 2005

MEMORANDUM TO: Michael Chertoff
Secretary of Homeland Security

FROM: Michael D. Brown
Under Secretary

SUBJECT: DHS Response to Katrina

We are requesting your assistance to make available DHS employees willing to deploy as soon as possible for a two-week minimum field assignment to serve in a variety of positions. We anticipate needing at least 1000 additional DHS employees within 48 hours and 2000 within 7 days. Attached is a list of requirements that employees will have to meet before deploying.

It is beneficial to use DHS employees as it allows us to be more efficient responding to the needs of this disaster and it reinforces the Department's All-Hazard's Capabilities. Also, DHS employees already have background investigations, travel cards and badges, all items that normally delay filling our surge workforce. FEMA Response and Recovery operations are a top priority of the Department and as we know, one of yours.

We will also want to identify staff with specialized skills such as bilingual capabilities,
Commercial Driver's License (CDL), and logistics capabilities.

Thank you for your consideration in helping us meet our responsibilities in this near catastrophic event.


cc: Michael P. Jackson
Deputy Secretary

Janet Hale
Under Secretary for Management


Requirements (for personnel):

You must have your supervisor's approval.

Contact your Human Resource Office to follow-up with FEMA Human Resource Office

You must be physically able to work in a disaster area without refrigeration for medications and have the ability to work in the outdoors all day.

Must be willing to work long hours under arduous conditions.

Role of Assigned Personnel:

Establish and maintain positive working relationships with disaster affected communities and the citizens of those communities.

Collect and disseminate information and make referrals for appropriate assistance. Identification of potential issues within the community and reporting to appropriate personnel.

Convey a positive image of disaster operations to government officials, community organizations and the general public.

Perform outreach with community leaders on available Federal disaster assistance. Training will be provided.

A roster of available personnel will be developed and made available as components identify personnel for deployment.

Selected personnel from the roster will be given training in Emmitsburg, Md., Atlanta, Ga., and Orlando, Fla., before you are deployed to the field. You will be expected to use goverranent credit cards (in good standing) for transportation, lodging, meals and other incidentals.

Contact your agency financial officer for information on obtaining government credit card (if you do not hold one).

Point of Contact to accept and process your assignment:

Human Resource Operations Branch, 202-646-4040
You will be walked through the system for further processing and deployment.

Deployment Information:

Selected personnel will either go to Atlanta, Ga. for Community Relations Training or Orlando, Fla., for all other Training and assignments. After which they will be deployed to a disaster Joint Field Office (FCO) when conditions are safe. Some organizational clothing and equipment will be supplied.

Type of personal supplies you should bring:

Sun hat
Sun Glasses
Walking shoes
Mosquito repellant
Medication (both over the counter and prescriptions)
Valid driver's license
Government ID
Cash (ATMs may not be working)
Government equipment (cell phones, computers, blackberries, etc)
Appropriate clothing (walking shorts acceptable)
Rain gear


Say what?

A roster of available personnel will be provided?

Stop by Atlanta, Ga., for community relations training?

Convey a positive image of disaster operations?

Don't forget your sunscreen and walking shoes?

Bring appropriate clothing, walking shorts, of course, being acceptable?

What planet was Mr. Brown on when he wrote this, as the storm raged?

Why is he still in office?

The hurricane season's not over. May be an earthquake. Who knows what Osama's buddies are up to.

We may need this Emergency Preparedness and Response outfit again any day now.

Why is Michael Brown still in charge?

Posted by jcb at September 7, 2005 02:30 PM


I have heard before about Mr. brown, but your story made it more clear. I hope the Pres. does remove him from office because if he doesn't he will be just as guilty. Don't you think that the city and state governments are more at fault. The Mayor should have known the weaknesses of the city and should have had a plan ready. Neither he nor the Governor were there for those people.

Posted by: Shirley Scott at September 8, 2005 10:44 AM

City and state officials apparently stumbled badly on several aspects of the evacuation, for which there are plans, among them The Southeast Louisiana Hurricane Evacuation and Sheltering Plan. It's a clearly written document any person of average intelligence can read and understand.

For how it all worked out, I'll turn to the account I got from a friend who lives in NO. Talked to her on the Wednesday after the storm.

Her car was in the shop, but she hitched a ride out with neighbors Sunday morning after the mayor and governor "were on television in a total panic, yelling `get out get out'."

Took six hours to make a 40-minute drive out of town. Said in-bound lanes weren't used for outbound traffic, at least on the route she took. (The plan covers this contingency). She landed in Natchez with friends of her neighbors.

She complained long and bitterly about the fact the buses weren't used to haul out as many as possible of the city's auto-less people. (The plan also provides for such use of the buses.)

The why and the how of these and other breakdowns will be duly examined and fault assigned. If New Orleans decides it wants to hang Mayor Nagin, I say hang away. If New Orleans decides he deserves a medal, fine.

It is, to the rest of the country nearly irrelevant. We don't depend on Mayor Nagin to bail us out if need be. We do depend on Michael Brown and FEMA.

His job was to deal with the existing siutation, not the situation that would have existed had everyone else done their assigned jobs perfectly up to that point.

Rather than dealing with the existing situation, Mr. Brown was writing blathering memos about "community relations training" and walking shorts.

Rather than rising to the occasion, he made it incomprehensibly worse.

We've provided him with many billions of dollars in resources. I don't think we came any place close to getting our money's worth.

And I don't think we need him in the way the next time his agency is really needed.

Posted by: jcb at September 8, 2005 12:48 PM

The full confirmation transcript is available in PFD form at
(The news, for those of us who would like to retain respect for the Senate is not good.)

Posted by: George at September 9, 2005 01:08 PM

Since you are Mr. News Person, I'm sure this is old news to you, but I couldn't help myself----I have to scoop you on your own blog.

According to MSNBC, Michael Brown is "handing over relief duties" to a Coast Guard Vice Admiral. Better late than never (but better never late). http://www.msnbc.com/id/9266986/

Posted by: paladin at September 9, 2005 01:37 PM

Un unh. Look at time of your post, and time of "sorry, mike, it wasn't the press."

Posted by: jcb at September 9, 2005 01:52 PM