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Former FEMA Director Michael Brown points finger directly at DHS' Chertoff, says matters have only gotten worse.

Reported by Chrish - March 5, 2006

In his first Sunday morning appearance since the Katrina catastrophe, Michael Brown gave an exclusive interview to Chris Wallace on Fox News Sunday today 3/5/06. He defended his course of action, saying that local and state officials were 70% responsible for the Katrina response and that his former boss, Michael Chertoff, interfered and caused confusion in the days following the storm. Things are even worse now, he says, and it is in our best interest for Congress to pull FEMA out of the Department of Homeland Security immediately.

Right off the bat, when asked by Wallace to quantify who was responsible for the poor response, Brown misrepresented the role the federal government was required to play:

"Well, we have to remember in this country the primary responsibility is for state and local governments. FEMA and the federal government come in only in a catastrophe and only at the request of the governor to assist them.

From an invaluable article, Eight Big Lies About Katrina, at Alternet.org:

"In fact, the Department of Homeland Security's December 2004 National Response Plan clearly indicates that in these situations, the federal government will pre-empt state and local efforts and provide immediate assistance to the affected area. (snip) According to DHS' December 2004 National Response Plan (NRP), "catastrophic events," such as what occurred in New Orleans, call for heightened and "proactive" federal involvement to manage the disaster. The response plan listed "guiding principles" to govern the response to these major events. The "Guiding Principles for Proactive Federal Response" make clear that, in these "catastrophic" cases, the federal government will operate independently to provide assistance, rather than simply supporting or cajoling state authorities:

* The primary mission is to save lives; protect critical infrastructure, property, and the environment; contain the event; and preserve national security.

* Standard procedures regarding requests for assistance may be expedited or, under extreme circumstances, suspended in the immediate aftermath of an event of catastrophic magnitude.

* Identified Federal response resources will deploy and begin necessary operations as required to commence life-safety activities.

* Notification and full coordination with States will occur, but the coordination process must not delay or impede the rapid deployment and use of critical resources. States are urged to notify and coordinate with local governments regarding a proactive Federal response.

* State and local governments are encouraged to conduct collaborative planning with the Federal Government as a part of "steady-state" preparedness for catastrophic incidents."

The NRP also says that, when responding to a catastrophic incident, the federal government should start emergency operations even in the absence of clear assessment of the situation. "A detailed and credible common operating picture may not be achievable for 24 to 48 hours (or longer) after the incident," the NRP's "Catastrophic Annex" states. "As a result, response activities must begin without the benefit of a detailed or complete situation and critical needs assessment." Former FEMA chief of staff Jane Bullock said that "[t]he moment the president declared a federal disaster [on Aug 29], it became a federal responsibility. ... The federal government took ownership over the response."

Chris Wallace brought up the tired old talking point that the school buses, putting Sean Hannity's favorite picture up on the screen, and asked Brown why they weren't used? (There were no drivers, no National Guardsmen handy, and the mayor had no authority.) Brown claims that to this day, he doesn't know. To that I say:
Why haven't these trailers been delivered to homeless Katrina evacuees, to this day?

Brown said that he thought the federal government was NOT fully prepared: "I think that we had dropped the ball long before Katrina hit in not doing the kind of catastrophic disaster planning that the federal government should have been doing. That's where we dropped the ball."

Soon the finger-pointing begins in earnest. DHS Secretary Chertoff is shown in video clip saying " I heard that he was flying around with governors and other people, that he was thinking about a TV appearance. And I gave him a very clear message: Job one is to get this thing done. Sit in the operation center. Get with the relevant managers. Make sure you are taking care of all of these issues."

Brown defends his actions and says, to Wallace's questioning if he (Brown) should have been staying put in a central ops center: "Absolutely not. And in fact, that's not how FEMA's operated in its entire history. Every FEMA director is in the field with the troops making sure they have what they need and cutting through that red tape. I think Secretary Chertoff's order for me to stay in Baton Rouge was one of the tipping points that caused this disaster to be even worse.'

Bush's top homeland security adviser, Fran Townsend, is shown saying: "Michael Brown chose not to follow his chain of command. That can't happen again. That has to be very clear." Wallace asked then, " If, as you say, the secretary of homeland security, Michael Chertoff, was marginalizing FEMA, why wasn't it even more important for you to keep Chertoff and DHS fully in the loop?"

To that, Brown responded "Because DHS and Chertoff don't provide anything that I need in that disaster. Chertoff can't move one bottle of water. He can't move one MRE. And for Fran Townsend to now come out and say I wasn't following the chain of command completely belies exactly how we operated from the day this administration came in, from September 11th all the way through the Florida hurricanes in 2004. I always dealt directly with the White House directly with (Bush). "

Wallace then said that Chertoff and his predecessor, Tom Ridge, had said Brown was, in so many words, insubordinate, doing an end run around DHS and going directly to the White House. Brown replies that Ridge was smart and stayed out of his way during the hurricanes of 2004, and he "never had any secretary of homeland security interfere with what my operations were up until Chertoff."

Wallace seemed surprised at that term: "Well, wait. Interfere? I mean, they're your boss."

Brown said he would "give an order for something to happen in Louisiana, and somebody would go talk to Chertoff. And Chertoff would give a different order. And so there was this confusion about who was in charge. I should have been in charge in there. I should have been making those decisions. And Chertoff should not have been second-guessing those decisions."

A bit later Wallace says that Chertoff says Brown didn't keep him in the loop, and here's Fran Townsend saying he didn't keep Chertoff in the loop, to which Brown replied "And once again they are being disingenuous and they're still looking for a fall guy, because if you go back and look at the phone records, there is a constant chain of communication between me and Chertoff throughout the disaster."

So this all leads up to the big question: "Is the government any better prepared than it was last August 28th to deal with a disaster?"

Brown's answer is disheartening at best: "Chris, I think we're worse off. If you look at what's happening in FEMA, they still have - Chief Paulison is now talking about the hundreds of vacancies they can't fill. There's still this confusion about what FEMA is supposed to do and not do. The partnerships between FEMA and state and local governments have been broken and will continue to be broken by the path that the secretary is headed down. So I think we're worse off today than we were even before Katrina."

On the White House "getting their act together" he says "Not yet. And I think what they need to do is recognize that FEMA -- despite the politics of it, FEMA needs to be pulled out of the Department of Homeland Security because it has a different mission, it has a different culture, and until it's independent, with its own budget and its own relationships with state and local government, it will continue to falter."

For a closing question Wallace asked: "Hurricane season starts June 1st. What are you saying to the people of America?"

Brown: "I'm telling you that they ought to demand right now that FEMA be pulled out. These people on the Hill ought to pull FEMA out right now, make it independent, and cut out the baloney."

Comment: Just when you think things can't get worse with this administration, they invariably do.

A partial transcript is available at FoxNews.com.

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