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Saturday, February 18, 2006

"At Least You Never Shot Anybody"

An interview with Michael Brown, former head of FEMA:

A Conversation With Michael Brown, 'Taking Me Out Didn't Solve the Problems', Sunday Outlook, Washington Post Online: ...

What don't people know about you? You've become a cartoon character. Yeah, thanks.

Seriously, what don't people know about Mike Brown? I've become a caricature: I'm disengaged, I don't care, I'm a crony. All three of them are wrong. I care deeply. I worked hard. . . . I have a very strong belief about emergency management in this country and how it should work. I think my big mistake was staying inside and fighting it too long.

You're talking about your turf battles within the Department of Homeland Security. You think you should've left earlier. Frankly, I should've given up. In hindsight, there were points where I knew I was losing the battle...

I read your hearing transcript, and you're probably the first person in the history of Washington to admit you're an infighter. Nobody in Washington's an infighter, right? Right! Well, I was an infighter; I tried to fight battles within the system. I don't think people outside the Beltway grasp how scripted this town is. People don't tell the truth; people feel boxed in so they can't tell the truth; people get dismissed for telling the truth. . . . I don't think people who live in Washington believe the American people can handle the truth, and I think they can.

So let's give them the truth. Who's been loyal, and who's stabbed you in the back? Loyal? Friends, people inside and outside the administration. ... I'll run into members of the administration at the dry cleaners, or at a restaurant or something, and they've been very supportive, saying they feel badly about how I've been scapegoated...

At the hearing, [Minnesota Sen.] Norm Coleman really went after you. Do you feel bitter about that? I liken what Norm Coleman did to a drive-by shooting. It doesn't take a lot of manhood to walk into a hearing room and attack me, then when I asked him to point to specifics, to conveniently turn around and say: I have another meeting to go to and walk out. That's what gives American politics a bad name.

Can you name some of people who have been so supportive? Hmm. Well. Here I am complaining about people not telling the truth, but if they work in the administration, I hate to say their names. I don't want them to have recriminations because they've been supportive of me...

When this started, Democrats were calling for your head, and Republicans said: Everything's going fine. But the second you were gone, Democrats ... said you were being scapegoated, and Republicans started trying to blame everything on you. Did that teach you anything about Washington? ... It gets back to the whole lack of personal responsibility in Washington. I've said that yes, I made some mistakes in the response. And I made some mistakes in how I tried to shape the culture of DHS. But a lot of this has to do with the '06 and '08 elections, and the American public gets turned off by it...

Can your wife laugh about it? When you take out the garbage, does she say: Brownie, you're doing a heckuva job? It must be hard for her. It is hard for her. Some days she can laugh about it. Some days she gets very angry. She's a school counselor, so she knows how to deal with it. She's very good about throwing The Washington Post in the trash and turning off the television.

You know, you talked about how people can't handle the truth. When you first testified before Congress, you trashed the mayor and the governor. But when you came back and testified..., you trashed DHS. The first time, did you tell the truth? I think there's an important distinction to make. In the first hearing, I told the truth about the problems at the state and local level. In the second hearing, I told the truth about the problems at the federal level. In the first hearing, I was constrained, I was still working for the administration...

But you've been cast aside by the administration, and the decision came from the top. Do you feel betrayed? I don't think I've been betrayed. We had to do something. The quickest thing to do was move Brown out of there. ... I understand that.

There's now an effort to blame you. Brown was the problem; we got rid of Brown. If people think I alone was the problem, all they have to do is look at the memos I wrote, the continuing problems FEMA has with housing, the continuing problems FEMA has with financial matters, all issues we were aware of and were trying to fix. Taking me out didn't solve the problems.

You wrote memos saying that FEMA's falling apart. You said there's going to be a disaster and we're not going to be ready. Did you think you'd end up the scapegoat? That's why I made the decision to leave in the summer of '05. The mistake was that I didn't make the decision sooner. I predicted this thing, and lo and behold, it happened. I get no pleasure from being able to say I was right...

What about Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff? He's dumping things on you. I expect him to dump things on me. That's the way this town works. I'm very disappointed. ... I'm not sure it's the right thing to do, but it's the task he's been given.

This all must have been a surreal experience for you. It's been totally surreal. I came to Washington to try to do a good job and serve the president. Now I see people staring at me in airports...

At least you never shot anybody. I've shot a lot of quail in my life, but I've never shot anybody.


[From The Economist, "Ready, fire, aim"]

    Posted by on Saturday, February 18, 2006 at 09:59 AM in Economics, Politics | Permalink  TrackBack (0)  Comments (7)

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