- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 6, 2005

Past work did not ‘translate’

From failed Republican congressional candidate to ousted “czar” of an Arabian horse association, there was little in Michael D. Brown’s background to prepare him for the fury of Hurricane Katrina.

Now, as the head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), Mr. Brown faces furious criticism of the federal response to the disaster that battered New Orleans and much of the Gulf Coast. He provoked some of it himself when he conceded that FEMA didn’t know that thousands of refugees were trapped at New Orleans’ convention center without food or water until officials heard it on the news.

“He’s done a hell of a job, because I’m not aware of any Arabian horses being killed in this storm,” said Kate Hale, former Miami-Dade County emergency management chief. “The world that this man operated in and the focus of this work does not in any way translate to this. He does not have the experience.”

Mr. Brown ran for Congress in 1988 and won 27 percent of the vote against Democratic incumbent Glenn English. He spent the 1990s as judges and stewards commissioner of the International Arabian Horse Association. His job was to ensure that horse-show judges followed the rules and to investigate accusations against those suspected of cheating.

“I wouldn’t have regarded his position in the horse industry as a platform to where he is now,” said Tom Connelly, a former association president.

Mr. Brown’s ticket to FEMA was Joe Allbaugh, President Bush’s 2000 campaign manager and an old friend of Mr. Brown’s in Oklahoma.

He told several association officials that if Mr. Bush were elected, hewould be in line for a good job. When Mr. Allbaugh took over FEMA in 2001, he took Mr. Brown with him as general counsel.

“He’s known Joe Allbaugh for quite some time,” said Andrew Lester, an Oklahoma lawyer who has been a friend of Mr. Brown’s for more than 20 years. “I think they did some debate type of things against each other and worked on some Republican politics together.”

Mr. Brown practiced law in Enid, Okla., a city of about 45,000, during the 1980s and was counsel to a group of businesses run by a well-known Enid family. Before that, he worked for the city of Edmond, Okla., and was an aide in the state Legislature.

From 1991 until 2000, Mr. Brown earned about $100,000 a year as the chief rules enforcer of the horse association.

At FEMA, Mr. Brown rose from general counsel to deputy director within a year. Bush named him to succeed Mr. Allbaugh in February 2003. With FEMA now part of the Department of Homeland Security, Mr. Brown’s title is under secretary for emergency preparedness and response.

Despite the withering criticism and a promised congressional investigation of FEMA’s performance, Mr. Brown still has the support of his most important constituent.

In Mobile, Ala., on Friday, Mr. Bush said the response to Katrina was unsatisfactory. But he had nothing but praise for his FEMA director.

“Brownie, you’re doing a heck of a job,” the president said.

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