"I'm Having a Horrible Time"

That’s what Michael Brown, the former FEMA director told his boss Michael Chertoff, on August 29th as the severity of Katrina became clear. According to Brown, Louisiana governor Kathleen Blanco and her staff were proving incapable of organizing a coherent state effort and that his field officers in the city were reporting an “out of control” situation.

“I can’t get a unified command established.”

One day later, Brown asked the White House to take control of the response effort.

He said he felt the subsequent appointment of Lt. Gen. Russel L. HonorĂ© of the Army as the Pentagon’s commander of active-duty forces began to turn the situation around.

In his first interview since being fired as FEMA director, Brown focused most of his criticism at Blanco.

Governor Blanco said Wednesday that she took responsibility for failures and missteps in the immediate response to the hurricane and pledged a united effort to rebuild areas ravaged by the storm, adding, “at the state level, we must take a careful look at what went wrong and make sure it never happens again.” A spokesman for Ms. Blanco denied Mr. Brown’s description of disarray in Louisiana’s emergency response operation. “That is just totally inaccurate,” said Bob Mann, the governor’s communications director. “Everything that Mr. Brown needed in terms of resources or information from the state, he had those available to him.”

As Mr. Brown recounted it, the weekend before New Orleans’s levees burst, FEMA sent an emergency response team of 10 or 20 people to Louisiana to review evacuation plans with local officials.

By Saturday afternoon, many residents were leaving. But as the hurricane approached early on Sunday, Mr. Brown said he grew so frustrated with the failure of local authorities to make the evacuation mandatory that he asked Mr. Bush for help.

“Would you please call the mayor and tell him to ask people to evacuate?” Mr. Brown said he asked Mr. Bush in a phone call.

“Mike, you want me to call the mayor?” the president responded in surprise, Mr. Brown said. Moments later, apparently on his own, the mayor, C. Ray Nagin, held a news conference to announce a mandatory evacuation, but it was too late, Mr. Brown said. Plans said it would take at least 72 hours to get everyone out.

He said, she said, they said, he said again, she said again…

Given what we know about Mike Brown and his ability to fabricate, I have to suspect that a lot of this is about covering himself from the flak that will eventually fly.

There’s going to be a whole lot of this finger pointing/blame stuff going on now that the recovery effort is winding down and rebuilding is ramping up. My hope is that a commission is established to investigate what when wrong and when it went wrong. The group should not include any active or inactive politicians though. The investigation would be a repeat of the 9/11 Commission findings, which ended up tainted by partisan politics. A Katrina Commission should include retired military generals who won’t have any reason to look at the events through political eyeglasses.

We’ll see.

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