- The Washington Times - Friday, September 9, 2005

Michael D. Brown, the embattled director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), yesterday was removed from his role managing Hurricane Katrina relief efforts.

Mr. Brown was sent from the Gulf Coast back to Washington by his boss, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, amid mounting criticism that he had responded too slowly to the disaster.

“I’ve directed Mike Brown to return to administering FEMA nationally,” Mr. Chertoff told reporters in Baton Rouge, La., with Mr. Brown at his side. “Mike Brown has done everything he possibly could to coordinate the federal response to this unprecedented challenge. I appreciate his work, as does everybody here.”

Mr. Brown took the reassignment in stride. “I’m going to go home and walk my dog and hug my wife, and maybe get a good Mexican meal and a stiff margarita and a full night’s sleep,” he told the Associated Press in Louisiana shortly before the move was announced by his boss.

“And then I’m going to go right back to FEMA and continue to do all I can to help these victims,” he said.

Mr. Chertoff placed Coast Guard Vice Adm. Thad W. Allen in charge of relief efforts on the Gulf Coast. Adm. Allen had been serving as Mr. Brown’s second-in-command on the scene until he was promoted yesterday by Mr. Chertoff, who suggested the admiral would be better suited to deal with the situation on the ground.

The civilian Mr. Brown, said Mr. Chertoff, was needed in an administrative role back in Washington, where FEMA “has a lot of other responsibilities.”

“We have to have seamless interaction with military forces as we move forward with our critical work in New Orleans, the surrounding parishes and in Mississippi and Alabama,” he said.

“At the same time, we are still in hurricane season,” he added. “While it’s very important to focus an enormous amount of attention and effort to what is going on here, we cannot afford to let our guard down with respect to other things that might happen.”

Democrats were unsatisfied by the half-measure and demanded Mr. Brown be fired outright. The demand was contained in a letter to President Bush that was signed by Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada and Assistant Minority Leader Richard J. Durbin of Illinois.

“It is not enough to remove Mr. Brown from the disaster scene,” said the letter, which was also signed by Democratic Sens. Charles E. Schumer of New York and Debbie Stabenow of Michigan. “We write to request the immediate removal of Michael Brown as the director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

“The events of the last 10 days have shown that Mr. Brown has repeatedly exercised poor judgment and has failed in his basic responsibilities,” they added. “His continued presence in this critical position endangers the success of the ongoing recovery efforts.”

The senators also charged that Mr. Brown “padded his resume and claimed emergency management experience prior to his appointment, when he really had no experience at all.”

Mr. Brown angrily denied the charges. “I’m anxious to get back to D.C. to correct all the inaccuracies and lies,” he told the AP. Asked if he was being made a scapegoat, Mr. Brown said, “By the press, yes. By the president, no.”

He answered some charges specifically, at one point saying “I have no clue” why the FEMA Web site says he was “assistant city manager” in Remond, Okla., when he was actually “assistant to the city manager,” an important distinction.

While Mr. Brown praised his on-site replacement, he said the switch was Mr. Chertoff’s idea.

“You’d have to ask Secretary Chertoff why he made that decision,” he said tersely.

Mr. Chertoff was also a bit testy during his joint appearance with Mr. Brown. He refused to relinquish the lectern when a reporter asked Mr. Brown if he would resign and whether he had exaggerated his resume, as Time magazine had reported.

“Here are the ground rules: I’m going to answer the questions,” Mr. Chertoff said. “I was about as clear as I possibly could be in English as to what I’m doing and why I’m doing it. Next question?”

Earlier in the day, White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan assured reporters that Mr. Bush had not asked for Mr. Brown’s resignation. But the spokesman sidestepped a question about whether the president had full confidence in Mr. Brown.

“We appreciate all those who are working round the clock, and that’s the way I would answer it,” he said.

Yesterday’s shake-up came one week after the president publicly praised Mr. Brown during a tour of the Gulf Coast. “Brownie, you’re doing a heck of a job,” Mr. Bush said. “The FEMA director is working … 24 hours a day.”

As for Adm. Allen, he is no stranger to high-profile assignments. In the aftermath of the September 11 terrorist attacks, he sent ships, aircraft and troops to the New York area. He also headed up the Coast Guard’s 2003 transition from the Transportation Department to the Homeland Security Department.

Adm. Allen will work closely with Army Lt. Gen. Russel L. Honore, director of the military’s Joint Task Force Katrina.

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