Wednesday, September 14, 2005

The Fall Guy

Yes, Michael Brown was incompetent and his career track (particularly with Arabian horses) hardly prepared him for leadership of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). But the buck doesn't stop there. Here's a report from Knight Ridder via the Seattle Times that makes it clear who had ultimate responsibility. And he still has his job:

The federal official with the power to mobilize a massive federal response to Hurricane Katrina was Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, not the former FEMA chief who was relieved of his duties and resigned this week, federal documents show.

Even before the storm struck the Gulf Coast, Chertoff could have ordered federal agencies into action without any request from state or local officials.

Federal Emergency Management Agency chief Michael Brown had limited authority to do so until about 36 hours after the storm hit, when Chertoff designated him as the "principal federal official" in charge of the storm.

As thousands of hurricane victims went without food, water and shelter in the days after Katrina's early-morning landfall on Monday, Aug. 29, critics assailed Brown for being responsible for delays that might have cost hundreds of lives.

But Chertoff — not Brown — was in charge of managing the national response to a catastrophic disaster, according to the National Response Plan, the federal government's blueprint for how agencies will handle major natural disasters or terrorist incidents.

An order issued by President Bush in 2003 also assigned that responsibility to the homeland-security director.

But according to a memo obtained by Knight Ridder, Chertoff didn't shift that power to Brown until late afternoon or evening on Tuesday, Aug. 30.


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