FEMA Extends Ex-Chief's Contract

Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, announces, Wednesday, July 13, 2005, in Washington, a six-point agenda for the Department of Homeland Security designed to ensure that the departments policies, operations and structures are aligned in the best way to address the potential threats. AP

The former head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency on Wednesday defended the agency's decision to keep him on the job another 30 days as a "completely legitimate thing to do."

Michael Brown, who resigned under fire Sept. 12 after being heavily criticized for the federal government's slow reaction to the hurricane, told The Associated Press that he would help the agency complete its review of the response to Hurricane Katrina. He said he would also be reviewing for the agency a large number of Freedom of Information requests dealing with the response.

Asked in a telephone interview if he expects to complete that work by the end of his second 30-day extension, Brown replied, "Absolutely. I'm motivated to wrap it up. I'm ready to move on."

Brown resigned three days after Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff relieved him of his onsite command of FEMA's response to Katrina. The storm killed more than 1,200 people along the Gulf Coast, flooded New Orleans and forced the evacuation of hundreds of thousands. R. David Paulison was named acting director.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency is part of Chertoff's department.

Brown initially was permitted to stay on the FEMA payroll for 30 days at his $148,000 annual salary. Chertoff defended the decision to extend Brown's employment for another 30 days during an interview Wednesday as he flew to view Hurricane Wilma's damage in Florida.

"It's important to allow the new people who have the responsibility ... to have access to the information we need to do better," Chertoff said. "We don't want to sacrifice the real ability to get a full picture of Mike's experiences; we don't want to sacrifice that ability simply in order to make an image point."

Russ Knocke, the Homeland Security spokesman, has said in the past that Brown was staying on to advise the department on his experience with Katrina. He said Brown has no decision-making or management responsibilities.

The decision quickly drew fire from members of Congress.

"Keeping Mike Brown at Homeland Security to investigate his role in the Katrina fiasco is like paying Ken Lay to run a price gouging investigation," said Mississippi Congressman Bennie Thompson, ranking Democrat on the House Homeland Security Committee.

Lay is the former Enron chairman now charged with fraud and conspiracy in connection with the energy company's collapse.

Mississippi Congressman Gene Taylor, whose coastal district was among the hardest hit by Katrina, said Brown's contract extension is an insult to taxpayers, particularly those Gulf Coast residents "whose lives were in danger in the aftermath of that storm because of Mike Brown's incompetence."

"I've got tens of thousands of people living in two-man igloo tents tonight, and less than a quarter of the people who have asked for FEMA travel trailers have gotten them," Taylor said. "And at the same time they can find $140,000 a year to pay this incompetent son of a gun; that's ridiculous."
  • Gina Pace

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