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Michael Brown Reflects on Katrina

Knowing what you do now, what would you have done differently after Katrina?
There were lots of mistakes made during Katrina at all levels, but mine was in communications. It was taking the FEMA talking points and saying, “Look, we are moving more equipment, supplies, personnel, material [than ever].” It was factually correct, but [the aid] wasn’t enough, and it wasn’t getting there in a timely manner. The public would see those interviews and say, “This guy doesn’t know what he’s talking about.”
You came from the International Arabian Horse Assn. Did you have the skills to head FEMA?
The media hooked onto that. You have to understand how emergency management works, but you have to equally understand how Washington works. I did. The White House wouldn’t have asked me to head up the transition team [if I hadn’t had those skills].
Did President Bush make you the scapegoat for Katrina?
He let me hang out to dry, but that’s just the way of Washington. The real story was, it was August, we had just come off the election, the President is down in Crawford. He’s focused on Afghanistan and Iraq, and he hears there’s a hurricane. He’s thinking, “Well, FEMA and Brown have handled all these disasters, I don’t need to worry about this.” There was a disconnect in terms of the impact because of New Orleans’s geography, the levee system, and everything else. It took a while for the White House to wake up and go, “Oh, holy cow, this is a serious deal.”

Bliss is a reporter for Bloomberg News.

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