Live

Watch CBSN Live

Aid, Not Blame, Focus For La. Gov

In a written statement, Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco called it "shocking" that former FEMA Director Michael Brown would tell Congress on Tuesday that the failures after Katrina were all her fault. She said she ordered New Orleans evacuated two days before Katrina hit and said Brown's testimony was "false and misleading."

But before a Senate committee Wednesday, CBS News correspondent Bob Fuss (audio) reports that she focused on the needs of her state.

"I'm here because the proposals you are considering are about creating jobs, and that's what we need. That's exactly what we need in the face of this massive suffering and heartbreak," Blanco said. "We need jobs to bring our people home."

Blanco called on Congress to enact the president's plan for a business enterprise zone in the Gulf Coast and go beyond it to help restore New Orleans.

"Thousands of Louisiana businesses have been destroyed or displaced, creating a potential tsunami of unemployment or suffering," Blanco said.

On Capitol Hill Tuesday, Brown blamed Blanco, the New Orleans mayor and even the Bush White House that appointed him for the response to Hurricane Katrina.

In response, lawmakers on the all-Republican panel alternately lambasted and mocked the former FEMA director, who has come to symbolize what went wrong with the federal government's response to the disaster.

Brown resigned Sept. 12 after being relieved of his onsite command of the Federal Emergency Management Agency's response effort three days earlier.

"I'm happy you left," said Rep. Christopher Shays, R-Conn. "Because that kind of, you know, look in the lights like a deer tells me that you weren't capable to do the job."

"You get an F-minus in my book," said Rep. Gene Taylor, D-Miss.

At several points, Brown turned red in the face and slapped the table in front of him.

"So I guess you want me to be the superhero, to step in there and take everyone out of New Orleans," Brown said.

"What I wanted you to do is do your job and coordinate," Shays said.

Well aware of President Bush's sinking poll ratings, legislators of both parties tried to distance themselves from the federal preparations for Katrina and the storm's aftermath that together claimed the lives of more than 1,000 people in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama.

"New Orleans was the city that FEMA forgot, the governor forgot, and the mayor just didn't take care of," Dr. Brobson Lutz, former city health director, told CBS News correspondent Sharyn Alfonsi.

Brown acknowledged making mistakes during the storm and subsequent flooding that devastated the Gulf Coast. But he accused New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin and Blanco, both Democrats, of fostering chaos and failing to order a mandatory evacuation more than a day before Katrina hit.

"My biggest mistake was not recognizing by Saturday that Louisiana was dysfunctional," Brown told a special panel set up by House Republican leaders to investigate the catastrophe.

Many in Congress feel FEMA needs more money, more equipment, a more autonomy than it now has under Homeland Security, reports CBS News correspondent Bob Orr — something that Brown seemed to confirm during the hearing.

"He said that he asked for the money, but he wasn't given the money to deal with it," Shays said Wednesday on CBS News' The Early Show. "He also said that the department was eviscerated in the last three years, and he spoke up privately about it but never publicly made it an issue."

Asked about Brown's claim that his agency's funding had been cut and that state and local officials were to blame for many response failures, White House spokesman Scott McClellan Wednesday said, "Washington tends to get caught up on bickering and finger-pointing. The president is focused on problem-solving."

Brown also said he warned President Bush, White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card and Deputy Chief of Staff Joe Hagin that "this is going to be a bad one" in e-mails and phone conversations leading up to the storm. Under pointed questioning, he said some needs outlined to the White House, Pentagon and Homeland Security Department were not answered in "the timeline that we requested."

"We have a huge problem with the bureaucracy at FEMA," Shays told Early Show co-anchor Harry Smith.

In Miami, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff told reporters that Brown "speaks for himself and he's entitled to his point of view, and I don't have anything to add."

Most Democrats, seeking an independent investigation, stayed away to protest what they called an unfair probe of the Republican administration by GOP lawmakers.

"I very strongly personally regret that I was unable to persuade Governor Blanco and Mayor Nagin to sit down, get over their differences and work together," Brown said. "I just couldn't pull that off."

Brown, who remains on FEMA's payroll for two more weeks before he leaves his annual $148,000 post, rejected accusations that he was inexperienced for the job he held for more than two years during which he oversaw 150 federally-declared disasters. Before joining FEMA in 2001, he was an attorney, held local government posts and headed the International Arabian Horse Association.

"I know what I'm doing, and I think I do a pretty darn good job of it," he said.

He said FEMA coordinates and manages disaster relief, but the emergency first response is the job of state and local authorities. Brown also said the agency was stretched too thin to respond to a catastrophe of Katrina's size. "We were prepared but overwhelmed is the best way I can put it," he said.

"I don't know how you can sleep at night," Rep. Kay Granger, R-Texas, said. "You lost the battle."

Brown, his voice dropping slightly, responded: "I probably should have just resigned my post earlier and gone public with some of these things because I have a great admiration for the men and women of FEMA and what they do, and they don't deserve what they've been getting."

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.