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If Heads Were To Roll, Chertoff’s Should Have Been Included


By James Donahue

Sept. 15, 2005


The political bungling that caused so much fervor among the survivors of the New Orleans fiasco brought about the peculiar “demotion” and eventual resignation of former FEMA Chief Michael Brown.


It probably was supposed to make it appear that the Bush Administration was not taking week-long response to help the starving and dying citizens lightly. Since mistakes were made and a cover-up was impossible, someone paid the price.


Granted that Brown, whose background involved good horsemanship, was undoubtedly over his head in dealing with a disaster of this magnitude. But Brown was not alone in this debacle. A report this week by investigative reporters for Knight Ridder Newspapers indicates that the blame rested more heavily on the shoulders of Michael Chertoff, director of Homeland Security, than it did on Brown.


According to documents revealed by Knight Ridder, it was Chertoff, not Brown, who was in charge of managing the national response to a catastrophic disaster.


The story said this was the directive from the National Response Plan and was the order issued by President Bush as early as 2003. So broad were his powers that Chertoff could have ordered federal agencies into action even before the storm struck the Gulf Coast, and he could have done it without the request from either state or local officials.


Under the written federal guidelines for the pecking order of authority in that massive network of tomfoolery, Brown may have held the title of FEMA chief, but he had only limited authority to do anything until Chertoff designated him as the “principal federal official” in charge of responding to the storm.


That order from Chertoff did not reach Brown until 36 hours after the storm hit. Yet Brown, who then had to go through mountains of red tape to get things moving, and somehow deal with a disaster unlike anything America ever faced in its history, took the blame for all that went wrong.


Worse yet was that Brown acted as if he was in the dark as to the severity of the New Orleans situation when interviewed by television news reporters. Chances are he was telling the truth. If he was so involved in the paperwork of the office, and the overwhelming job of getting manpower, goods and services to so many people in such a large area of devastation, he may not have had time to watch the nightly news reports or even get more than a brief review of what was going on.


Brown was probably less informed than the average beer-drinking dolt with his eyes fixed on the nightly television drama.


So it was Brown’s head that went on the Bush chopping block when someone had to be sacrificed. Brown took the heat and quietly resigned, when all along Chertoff was the man that blundered.


With Chertoff still in charge of Homeland Security, we might wonder what we can expect when the next disaster, be it terrorism, storm or earthquake, strikes the United States.



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