FEMA Director Takes Heat for Katrina Response

ByABC News
September 5, 2005, 9:01 PM

Sept. 5, 2005 -- -- The head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency had virtually no experience with emergency management when he was appointed to the position by President Bush two years ago.

Before becoming part of the agency, Michael Brown was a top official of an Arabian Horse Association. The secretary of that association says it asked him to resign in 2001.

"I can't see for the life of me how heading a horse association has anything to do with responding to the domestic preparedness," said Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss.

Brown was recommended for the FEMA position by Joe Allbaugh, his predecessor and long time friend.

In a statement released today, Allbaugh said Brown had worked under him at FEMA for two years.

"He learned the system and was my logical successor," the statement read.

Allbaugh is now a strategic consultant for private companies that seek government contracts for disaster relief and homeland security work. Allbaugh says that although he is registered as a lobbyist, he does not lobby for government contracts.

"It would appear that it has become a political patronage office," commented John Copenhaver, a former regional director at FEMA.

The extensive list of FEMA's failures over the last week is topped by what happened at the convention center in New Orleans. There, 25,000 people were essentially stranded for four days.

"Don't you watch television or listen to the radio?" ABC News' Ted Koppel asked Brown on Thursday's "Nightline." "We've known about this for days.

Brown failed to have a good answer, "We took awhile. That is true."

Local officials and private executives claim that under Brown, FEMA refused numerous offers of help that could have saved lives.

"If that's true," says Copenhaver, "that's unacceptable."

However, the Bush administration continued to support Brown today as President Bush had done on his first visit to the scene of Hurricane Katrina.

"And Brownie, you're doing a heck of a job. The FEMA director's been working 24 hours," Bush said as the crowd burst into applause.

ABC News' Rhonda Schwartz and Avni Patel contributed to this report.