- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 14, 2006


The Bush administration yesterday pushed back hard against criticism leveled by ex-disaster agency chief Michael D. Brown and congressional investigators over response to Hurricane Katrina.

“I reject outright the suggestion that President Bush was anything less than fully involved,” said White House homeland security adviser Frances Fragos Townsend.

Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff “unequivocally and strongly” rejected suggestions that his agency was preoccupied with terror threats at the expense of preparing for natural disasters.

Both spoke at a conference of state emergency management directors in Alexandria.

Their rebuttal came as a Republican-written House report blamed governmentwide ineptitude for mishandling Hurricane Katrina relief. A report by Congress’ investigative arm, the Government Accountability Office, reached similar conclusions and singled out Mr. Chertoff for delays.

Both Mrs. Townsend and Mr. Chertoff took swipes at Mr. Brown, who resigned under pressure in September as head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

“There is no place for a lone ranger in emergency management,” said Mr. Chertoff, whose Department of Homeland Security is FEMA’s parent agency.

Mr. Brown testified before a Senate committee last week that he issued repeated warnings to the White House and Homeland Security Department Aug. 29, the day the hurricane struck the Gulf Coast, that levees had failed and New Orleans was seriously flooding.

He suggested that the White House and Homeland Security Department had delayed action.

Mr. Bush and other federal officials have said they did not know until the next day, Aug. 30, that levees had been breached.

Mr. Brown yesterday defended his performance.

“For Secretary Chertoff to claim that I failed to keep him informed belies the numerous telephone calls and e-mails between me and him prior to, during and after landfall” of the storm, Mr. Brown said in an e-mail.

Mr. Brown also applauded congressional investigations into the government’s response.

Mrs. Townsend, without naming names, criticized those at FEMA she said had “become bitter” and lashed out “trying to find someone else, anyone else, to blame.”

“We cannot attempt to rewrite history by pointing fingers or laying blame,” she said.

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