Brown Criticized for Bucking Federal Disaster Plan

Michael Brown is being criticized again for his role in the response to Hurricane Katrina. The House committee investigating the government's response says that the former Federal Emergency Management Agency director did not give an official government disaster plan a chance to work.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, Host:

Former Federal Emergency Management Agency Director Michael Brown came in for more criticism yesterday. In a report the all-Republican House Select Committee chastised Brown for failing to follow the chain of command during Hurricane Katrina.

NPR's Pam Fessler reports.

PAM FESSLER: Brown testified that he intentionally went around the chain of command and dealt directly with the White House because he didn't want to get bogged down in layers of bureaucracy. In fact, the committee released an e-mail in which Brown complains to a colleague that phone calls from his boss, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, are, quote "literally driving me crazy." But the House panel, which has conducted a lengthy investigation into the hurricane response, says Brown should have followed a new national response plan. That plan was approved in 2004 as a way to better coordinate the government's handling of major disasters.

Tom Davis of Virginia chairs the committee.

TOM DAVIS: While it's not clear that the response would have been better in the NRP had been followed, we simply don't know. It's clear, however, that Brown had the responsibility for trying to follow it, and deliberately chose not to do so.

FESSLER: The report says that Brown admitted in a deposition last month that he had no reason to believe he wouldn't get the assistance he needed using the response plan. The panel also says that when Brown did deal with the White House, he didn't always ask for help. The committee released an e-mail from White House Chief of Staff Andy Card the night the storm hit, in which Card asks Brown if there's anything he can do.

Brown thanks Card and responds that housing, transportation, and the environment could be long-term issues. Some Democrats think Brown has been made a scapegoat for the government's bungling during the storm. Congressional investigations have uncovered missteps at all levels of government, including confusion among many officials about how the national response plan is supposed to work. Congress and the White House are only beginning to discuss how to fix the problem.

Pam Fessler, NPR News, Washington.

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