Michael Brown's accountability moment

The FEMA chief has been ordered back to Washington. What's next?

Published September 9, 2005 5:36PM (EDT)

Salon editorial fellow Aaron Kinney reacts to the news of Michael Brown's departure from the Gulf Coast.

On a Friday marked by a flurry of news reports detailing the agency's shortcomings and dissecting his résumé, FEMA Director Michael Brown was relieved of his duties overseeing the Hurricane Katrina recovery and sent back to Washington. He was replaced by Coast Guard Vice Adm. Thad W. Allen, who had been overseeing New Orleans rescue efforts, according to Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff.

Has the Bush administration finally fired someone for not doing his job? Not quite. He has been shelved, not fired, though the Associated Press reported that his departure may be imminent.

An AP reporter asked Brown if he felt like he was being made a scapegoat for the failures of the relief effort. The AP reported that after a long pause, he said, "By the press, yes. By the president, no."

So it appears that Brown's ego-defense shields are operational, which is good news for him because he's going to need them as more information about FEMA's dysfunction comes to light. It was evident from the start that Brown would make a handy fall guy for the federal government's blundering response to Katrina. The risk for the administration now, however, is that critics in government and the media may shift their focus up the ladder to Chertoff and the president himself.

By Aaron Kinney

Aaron Kinney is a writer in San Francisco. He has a blog.

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