George W. Bush and his homeland security chief are learning one of life's little lessons today: Hell hath no fury like a FEMA director scorned.
In testimony before the Senate today, Michael Brown said that he has been made a "scapegoat" for the federal government's flawed response to Katrina -- and that the real culprits are Michael Chertoff, the Department of Homeland Security and the White House itself. Brown said that "policies implemented by the DHS put FEMA on a path to failure" long before Katrina struck New Orleans. Once the storm hit and the levees failed, Brown said, Chertoff's DHS "saw an opportunity to assert itself, as it always tried to do in FEMA operations, which slowed things down."
Brown said that he called the Bush compound in Crawford, Texas, on the night that Katrina struck to inform the White House that levees had broken and water was flooding into New Orleans. He said he spoke with Deputy White House Chief of Staff Joseph Hagin and that he told him that "our worst nightmares" seemed to be coming true. The next morning, Bush left Crawford for San Diego, where he made brief comments about Katrina before delivering prepared remarks in which he compared the war in Iraq to World War II.
Brown says that White House Chief of Staff Andy Card rebuffed his efforts to solicit more help from the White House, ordering him to work through the "chain of command" instead. That chain ran through Chertoff and the DHS bureaucracy, Brown said. "We've done a great job as Republicans of establishing more and more bureaucracy," Brown told Maine Sen. Susan Collins.
Brown said that he cried in his hotel room during the early days of Katrina, frustrated by the failure of the federal government to deliver the help he knew it was capable of providing. Asked whether the Bush administration was making him the fall guy for Katrina, Brown said, "I certainly feel abandoned." As for the president, Brown said: "Unfortunately, he called me 'Brownie' at the wrong time. Thanks a lot, sir."