FEMA's New Deal in California

As fires raged in California this week, FEMA Director David Paulison gave federal disaster relief a pat on the back, calling his agency the "new FEMA."

"We're working together as partners," he said at a Wednesday press conference. "That's how it's supposed to work."

Paulison, a 30-year veteran of fire and rescue work, was likely taking a swipe at Michael D. Brown, the former FEMA chief who resigned in the maelstrom of Hurricane Katrina.

Now, in what some see as great irony, Brown is promoting his expertise in disaster management to do for California what some say he failed to do in New Orleans.

Brown, the man who led FEMA immediately after the 2005 hurricane, when tens of thousands of people on the Gulf Coast went without food, power or water for weeks, is out offering his consulting services to California businesses affected by the fires. He's also defending his handling of Katrina and pointing out that the agency now has some advantages he didn't have.

"Dave [Paulison] is in difficult position," Brown told ABC News. "He really has to do what the administration wants, but has the advantage that Congress is throwing money at him."

But the man whom President Bush called "Brownie" and whose seemingly insensitive e-mails and thin emergency services resume contributed to his downfall, said he has learned from the Katrina experience.

"I never did say I didn't make mistakes," Brown told ABCNEWS.com.

"The biggest mistake I made was in communications," he said. "There are talking points the White House wants you to say. I should have been more up front with the public. I should have been more truthful about the team work and the state being overwhelmed."

'Politics of Disaster'

Brown, in the past a vocal critic of Bush, said his former boss has given California quicker and better support than he received in Louisiana.

"I think the president has learned the politics of disaster," said Brown. "You have to be up front and support the troops and teams. That lesson everyone learned from Katrina."

During congressional testimony, Brown pointed the finger of blame at then Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco and New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin.

Nagin, who has openly criticized Brown, told ABCNEWS.com, "I haven't gotten a call from anyone in California for a reference on him, but I would not recommend him."

"I was a mayor on the ground, and my city was devastated," said Nagin. "I looked to the government for help, but it was slow in coming."

Blanco declined to comment for this story.

Brown, a lawyer by profession, was appointed as director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency in January 2003 but stepped down Sept. 12, 2005, barely two weeks after the levees broke and devastation hit New Orleans.

For two months he continued working within FEMA before going into consulting on a variety of issues, including national security and data mining. Prior to that, he had spent 11 years overseeing horse trial judges for the Arabian Horse Association.

"My last worst act was Katrina, and that's the mindset," he said. "But my clients say, here is a guy who has been at the top of the mountain and the pits of the valley where he can fill in the gaps about what does and doesn't work and not be caught off guard again."

Brown has been both lambasted by former President Clinton and praised by former New York Mayor and Republican presidential candidate Rudy Giuliani.

  • 1
  • |
  • 2
  • |
  • 3
Join the Discussion
blog comments powered by Disqus
You Might Also Like...