Five years after Hurricane Katrina devastated the city of New Orleans, former FEMA director Michael Brown is returning to New Orleans and trying to clear his name.
The disgraced Bush administration official now hosts a radio show in Denver and is taking his show to New Orleans this week, to mark the fifth anniversary of the storm. While Brown received much of the blame for the government's failed response to Katrina, he said in interviews this week that he lacked the support from President Bush or New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin needed to do his job.
"I really needed the president to get the attention of the entire administration. I needed every Cabinet secretary to be full hands on deck," Brown said in an interview with the Washington Post. If I called and said I needed X, they should have given me X. I regret not pushing harder for that."
"Not having him do that was a tipping point," he said.
Brown was director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency when the hurricane hit, and he became the face of the government's flawed response after Mr. Bush infamously told him, "Brownie, you're doing a heckuva job." Ten days after the president's remark, Brown resigned. The storm ultimately killed more than 1,800 people and left the region in tatters.
Brown told ABC News that he should have "gone public when things weren't working," but he nevertheless said he was fired because he was at the bottom of the chain of command.
"Bush wasn't going to fire [former homeland security chief Michael] Chertoff for the screw-ups," he said.
Brown told the Post that the other "tipping point" in the disaster was his failure to convince Mayor Ray Nagin to order a mandatory evacuation.Complete Coverage: Katrina Five Years Later
"I called the president to call Nagin for me, because I wasn't getting anywhere with him," he said. "After Bush made that call and Nagin kept trying to decide, I went on a few television stations and said 'I'd be getting my bum out now.' But I should have been getting on every network saying that."
Thousands of residents sat in the New Orleans Convention Center without food or water for days under Brown's watch because Nagin's office told him all of the evacuees were at the Super Dome, Brown told ABC.
"When people began to break into the Convention Center, it took us about 12 hours to learn that people were actually gathering there," Brown said. "There were definitely holes in a city of that size. You had this spontaneous collection of people at the Convention Center that simply weren't planned for."
Brown also attributed the government's slow response to simply the cumbersome nature of federal bureaucracy.
"We have to recognize is that this federal government of the United States is so large and cumbersome that we really can't and should not expect it to be this kind of well-oiled, well-running machine," he said. "It's not."