A Former Federal Emergency Management Agency Director Michael Brown blamed the Louisiana governor, the New Orleans mayor and the Bush White House that appointed him for the dismal response to Hurricane Katrina in a fiery appearance Tuesday before Congress.
In response, lawmakers alternately lambasted and mocked the former FEMA director.
House members' scorching treatment of Brown, in a hearing stretching nearly 6 1/2 hours, underscored how he has become an emblem of the deaths, lingering floods and stranded survivors after the Aug. 29 storm. Brown resigned Sept. 12 after being relieved of his onsite command of the Federal Emergency Management Agency's response effort three days earlier.
Well aware of President Bush's sunken poll ratings, legislators of both parties tried to distance themselves from the federal preparations for Katrina and the storm's aftermath that together claimed the lives of more than 1,000 people in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama.
Brown acknowledged making mistakes during the storm and subsequent flooding that devastated the Gulf Coast. But he accused New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin and Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco, both Democrats, of fostering chaos and failing to order a mandatory evacuation more than a day before Katrina hit.
"My biggest mistake was not recognizing by Saturday that Louisiana was dysfunctional," Brown told a special panel set up by House Republican leaders to investigate the catastrophe. Most Democrats, seeking an independent investigation, stayed away to protest what they called an unfair probe of the Republican administration by GOP lawmakers.
"I very strongly personally regret that I was unable to persuade Governor Blanco and Mayor Nagin to sit down, get over their differences and work together," Brown said. "I just couldn't pull that off."
Brown also said he warned Bush, White House chief of staff Andrew Card and deputy chief of staff Joe Hagin that "this is going to be a bad one" in e-mails and phone conversations leading up to the storm. Under pointed questioning, he said some needs outlined to the White House, Pentagon and Homeland Security Department were not answered in "the timeline that we requested."
Blanco vehemently denied that she waited until the eve of the storm to order an evacuation of New Orleans. She said her order came on the morning of Aug. 27 - two days before the storm - resulting in 1.3 million people evacuating the city.
In New Orleans, Nagin said that "it's too early to get into name-blame and all that stuff" but that "a FEMA director in Washington trying to deflect attention is unbelievable to me."
White House spokesman Scott McClellan urged Congress to undertake "a thorough investigation of what went wrong and what went right and look at lessons learned."
Brown, who remains on FEMA's payroll for two more weeks before he leaves his annual $148,000 post, rejected accusations that he was inexperienced for the job he held for more than two years during which he oversaw 150 presidentially declared disasters. Before joining FEMA in 2001, he was an attorney, held local government posts and headed the International Arabian Horse Association.
Brown described FEMA as a politically powerless arm of Homeland Security, which he said had siphoned more than $77 million from his agency over the past three years. Additionally, he said Homeland Security cut FEMA budget requests - including one for hurricane preparedness - before they were ever presented to Congress.
No longer needing to maintain a cordial relationship with Congress, Brown didn't hesitate to punch back at lawmakers who questioned whether the government would learn from mistakes before the next disaster strikes, the AP reports.