- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 5, 2006

The federal government’s ability to handle major disasters has diminished since Hurricane Katrina, said the former director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Michael D. Brown.

Mr. Brown also said Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff interfered with Katrina response efforts and that the agency will continue to deteriorate unless it is removed from the oversight of the fledgling department.

Making his first appearance on the Sunday political talk shows since Hurricane Katrina struck the Gulf Coast Aug. 29, Mr. Brown was asked by “Fox News Sunday” host Chris Wallace whether the administration has “gotten their act together.”

“Not yet,” Mr. Brown responded.

“I think we’re worse off, if you look at what’s happening in FEMA. Chief Paulison is now talking about the hundreds of vacancies they can’t fill. There’s still this confusion about what FEMA is supposed to do and not do,” Mr. Brown said, referring to his successor, R. David Paulison.

“The partnerships between FEMA and state and local governments have been broken and will continue to be broken by the path that the secretary is headed down. So I think we’re worse off today than we were even before Katrina,” Mr. Brown said.

Congress should “cut out the baloney” and separate FEMA from the Homeland Security Department, Mr. Brown said.

“Until it’s independent, with its own budget and its own relationships with state and local government, it will continue to falter,” Mr. Brown said.

Asked for response to Mr. Brown’s criticism, the spokesman for Homeland Security dismissed it as a “waste of time,” a reference to Mr. Brown’s testimony before Congress that calling Mr. Chertoff to help with response to the hurricane was a waste of time.

“This coming from the same person who boasted, under oath, in Senate testimony about working around the department and the secretary,” spokesman William Knocke said.

“There is no room for lone rangers in emergency response. We don’t have time to waste on responding to Mike’s latest contradictions. We’re focused on preparing FEMA for the next storm season, strengthening preparedness at the state and local levels and fully integrating FEMA operations with the Homeland Security Operations Center,” Mr. Knocke said.

Last year was the most devastating U.S. hurricane season on record, and National Weather Service Director David L. Johnson says this year could be just as bad.

“This is a cyclical thing, and since about 1995, we have been above average and we anticipate that we will stay above average for another decade or so,” said Mr. Johnson, also appearing on “Fox News Sunday.”

Mr. Brown stopped short of criticizing President Bush, who he said pleaded with local officials at Mr. Brown’s behest to evacuate areas affected by the hurricane.

In a videotape released last week of one briefing before Hurricane Katrina made landfall on the Gulf Coast, Mr. Bush said the federal government was fully prepared to handle the storm.

Mr. Brown said he was never put in charge of the operations and that Mr. Chertoff second-guessed all of his orders from the ground.

“Tom Ridge was very smart; Tom Ridge stayed completely out of my way,” Mr. Brown said of the former homeland security secretary. “I never had any secretary of homeland security interfere with what my operations were up until Chertoff.”

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