Monday, September 12, 2005

Embattled Federal Emergency Management Agency director Michael D. Brown resigned yesterday after being criticized for the federal government’s response to Hurricane Katrina.

Mr. Brown said he had not spoken with President Bush since early last week, but decided to resign after a conversation Saturday with White House Chief of Staff Andrew H. Card Jr.

“I think it’s in the best interest of the agency and the best interest of the president to do that and get the media focused on the good things that are going on, instead of me,” Mr. Brown told the Associated Press in announcing his resignation.

Mr. Bush named R. David Paulison, administrator of the U.S. Fire Administration within FEMA, to serve as acting director of FEMA. Mr. Paulison has 30 years of fire rescue services experience and was chief of the Miami-Dade County Fire Rescue Department in Florida.

FEMA became a lightning rod for frustrated flood victims as well as state and local officials, who blamed the agency when fresh supplies failed to materialize several days after levees broke and isolated New Orleans. The Red Cross and Salvation Army have blamed the state for not allowing rescue workers and supplies into the city.

On Friday, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff replaced Mr. Brown with Coast Guard Vice Adm. Thad Allen as head of recovery operations, fueling speculation that Mr. Brown was on his way out. Agency staffers hinted that the director had planned to resign after the hurricane season ended in November.

Mr. Chertoff had said Mr. Brown had other responsibilities and needed to return to Washington from the Gulf Coast.

Mr. Bush was visiting hurricane victims in Gulfport, Miss., yesterday when reporters asked him to respond to the resignation. The president, who looked surprised at the news, declined to comment.

“I was spending time with people, so I can’t comment on something that you may know more about than I do,” Mr. Bush said. “There will be plenty of time to figure out what went right and what went wrong.”

Some Democrats said Mr. Brown was right to resign, but others continued to criticize Mr. Bush for not firing the director.

“Michael Brown’s departure from FEMA is long overdue, and his resignation is the right thing for the country and for the people of the Gulf Coast states,” said House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat.

Mr. Brown’s resignation mattered little to hurricane victims, who say it won’t bring them needed relief any quicker.

“The guy is not very organized,” said Juan Manson, who was waiting for FEMA assistance after his New Orleans home was destroyed. “But the guy in charge resigning, and then getting a new guy, how does that help me? Does it give me a check? No.”

Mr. Paulison’s biography said his emergency management experience includes Hurricane Andrew in 1992 and the 1996 crash of ValuJet Flight 592 in the Everglades.

• Amy Doolittle in New Orleans contributed to this report.

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