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Homeland "Security"

The Armchair Generalist writes:

Armchair Generalist: Mike Brown - Fall Guy: While Mike Brown was no emergency responder, I think he was chosen as the fall guy for this administration's actions, Pres. Bush's public acceptance of responsibility not withstanding. Josh Marshall points out this Knight-Ridder article noting that Michael Chertoff at DHS may have been the guy holding back the federal response, rather than Mike Brown at FEMA:

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 Aug. 30, about 36 hours after Katrina hit Louisiana and Mississippi. That same memo suggests that Chertoff may have been confused about his lead role in disaster response and that of his department.

"As you know, the President has established the `White House Task Force on Hurricane Katrina Response.' He will meet with us tomorrow to launch this effort. The Department of Homeland Security, along with other Departments, will be part of the task force and will assist the Administration with its response to Hurricane Katrina," Chertoff said in the memo to the secretaries of defense, health and human services and other key federal agencies.

Also visit the Daily Howler, who takes the Washington Post down on its priggish (and factually incorrect) farewell to "Brownie," noting that the offenses attributed to Brown should have been attributed to Chertoff instead. I liked Chertoff's attempts to transform and streamline DHS, but as I've commented before, it's the DHS heirarchy that screwed the pooch in the federal response, not hamstrung FEMA or its luckless leader.

It is true that Michael Brown is finally beginning to push back. Five days ago Michael Chertoff was telling the New York Times's complaisant Elizabeth Bumiller http://www.nytimes.com/2005/09/10/national/nationalspecial/10crisis.html?ex=1284004800&en=aea5d703e166d88b&ei=5088&partner=rssnyt&emc=rss that the reason that he--Chertoff--was so uninformed was that he "was getting much of his information from Mr. Brown and [so] was not aware of what was occurring." Today Brown in his turn finds friendly New York Times reporters to tell his side of the story:

Ex-FEMA Chief Tells of Frustration and Chaos - New York Times: Hours after Hurricane Katrina passed New Orleans on Aug. 29... Michael D. Brown... placed frantic calls to his boss, Michael Chertoff, the secretary of homeland security, and to the office of the White House chief of staff, Andrew H. Card Jr.... [H]e told [them]... that the Louisiana governor... and her staff were proving incapable of organizing a coherent state effort and that... [there was] an "out of control" situation. "I am having a horrible time," Mr. Brown said he told Mr. Chertoff and a White House official - either Mr. Card or his deputy, Joe Hagin - in a status report that evening. "I can't get a unified command established." By the time of that call, he added, "I was beginning to realize things were going to hell in a handbasket" in Louisiana....

Mr. Brown's account, in which he described making "a blur of calls" all week to Mr. Chertoff, Mr. Card and Mr. Hagin, suggested that Mr. Bush, or at least his top aides, were informed early and repeatedly... that the overall response was going badly. A senior administration official said Wednesday night that White House officials recalled the conversations with Mr. Brown but did not believe they had the urgency or desperation he described in the interview. "There's a general recollection of him saying, 'They're going to need more help,' " said the official, who asked not to be named because of the sensitivity of internal White House discussions....

In Washington, Mr. Chertoff's spokesman, Russ Knocke, said there had been no delay in the federal response. "We pushed absolutely everything we could," Mr. Knocke said, "every employee, every asset, every effort, to save and sustain lives."...

When he arrived in Baton Rouge Sunday evening, Mr. Brown said, he was immediately concerned about the lack of coordinated response from Governor Blanco and Maj. Gen. Bennett C. Landreneau, the adjutant general of the Louisiana National Guard. "What do you need? Help me help you," Mr. Brown said he asked them. "The response was like, 'Let us find out,' and then I never received specific requests for specific things that needed doing." The most responsive person he could find, Mr. Brown said, was Governor Blanco's husband, Raymond. "He would try to go find stuff out for me," Mr. Brown said.

Governor Blanco's communications director, Mr. Mann, said that she was frustrated that Mr. Brown and others at FEMA wanted itemized requests before acting. "It was like walking into an emergency room bleeding profusely and being expected to instruct the doctors how to treat you," he said.

On Monday night, Mr. Brown said, he reported his growing worries to Mr. Chertoff and the White House. He said he did not ask for federal active-duty troops to be deployed because he assumed his superiors in Washington were doing all they could. Instead, he said, he repeated a dozen times, "I cannot get a unified command established." The next morning, Mr. Brown said, he and Governor Blanco decided to take a helicopter into New Orleans.... The crowd in the Superdome, the city's shelter of last resort, was already larger than expected. But he said he was relieved to see that the mayor had a detailed list of priorities, starting with help to evacuate the Superdome. He passed the list on to the state emergency operations center in Baton Rouge, but when he returned that evening he was surprised to find that nothing had been done. "I am just screaming at my F.C.O., 'Where are the helicopters?' " he recalled. " 'Where is the National Guard? Where is all the stuff that the mayor wanted?' "... [Tuesday] night, Mr. Brown said, he called Mr. Chertoff and the White House again in desperation. "Guys, this is bigger than what we can handle," he told them, he said. "This is bigger than what FEMA can do. I am asking for help." "Maybe I should have screamed 12 hours earlier," Mr. Brown said in the interview. "But that is hindsight. We were still trying to make things work."...

There is a definite sense that if one of the three governmental levels--the City of New Orleans, the State of Louisiana, or the Federal Government--had been able to respond in a competent fashion, things would have gone much much better.

Given that evacuating a million people is supposed to be a core competence of the Homeland Security Department, this is very disturbing.