Embattled FEMA chief Brown steps down

Brown's resignation two weeks after the hurricane hit was not unexpected. Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff signaled administration unhappiness with his performance Friday, when the secretary publicly removed him from overseeing Katrina disaster relief efforts. Brown had been heavily criticized for acting too slowly to rescue thousands of people trapped in New Orleans.
The announcement of Brown's resignation came while Bush was touring hurricane ravaged areas of Mississippi and Louisiana.
In a statement, Brown said he had become a distraction and that his leaving was in the "best interest" of the president and FEMA. "There is no other government agency that reaches people in a more direct way," he said. "It has been the best job in the world to help Americans in their darkest hours."
Brown, who got the FEMA job in 2001, came under fire for his lack of hands-on experience in disaster relief and for overstating his credentials on his resume. That led a chorus of Democrats to call for his ouster last week.
Bush at first had indicated, with Brown at his side, that he was satisfied with the director's performance, saying publicly, "Brownie, you're doing a heck of a job."
But inside the administration, few believed that. Although TV reports had been showing thousands of poor and black Americans stranded in New Orleans without food, water or medical attention, Brown told reporters that he did not know about the 20,000 evacuees at the convention center in New Orleans until 24 hours later.
Chertoff grew alarmed and told Bush that he was not satisfied with the way FEMA was performing. Bush sent Vice President Dick Cheney to the region, who confirmed that criticism of FEMA and of Brown was mounting.
Bush then told Chertoff to do what he had to do, and Chertoff named Thad Allen, a Coast Guard vice admiral, to head up the federal response to Katrina.
In a statement last night, Chertoff said Brown had managed 160 disasters during his tenure at FEMA and that he was "a good man" who did everything he could to coordinate the disaster response to Katrina.
Sen. Trent Lott, R-Miss., whose home was demolished in the hurricane, said everyone was overwhelmed by the scope of the disaster. Nonetheless, he said, Brown was acting more like a private than a general, and that FEMA's on-scene leadership had improved since Allen took over. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., also said he was impressed with the way Allen had stepped into the job and immediately had taken charge without ruffling feathers at the local and state levels.
Democrats who for days had been calling for Brown's ouster grumbled that Bush should have fired him, rather than letting him resign. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, R-Calif., said Brown's departure was long overdue.
The bipartisan leaders of the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee, which oversees FEMA, agreed that Brown's competence had become a distraction from the relief and recovery effort.
The committee chairman, Sen. Susan Collins, R-Me., said she hoped that Brown's stepping down would end the "continuing barrage" of questions about his credentials, his leadership ability and decisions that he made in preparation for and response to Katrina and would now refocus attention on the relief and recovery.
The labor union that represents FEMA workers, the American Federation of Government Employees, said Brown's resignation was appropriate but inadequate. Union President John Gage said Brown's departure "does nothing to restore the slashed funding for disaster mitigation that FEMA has suffered. It does not undo the damage done by the connected contractors who were used to push aside career FEMA employees, only to provide unusable studies and materials."
Criticism has mounted over poor communications; over buses that took days to arrive to transport people out of peril; over squabbling between state, local and federal authorities; over cuts in FEMA's budget; and over the lack of security, food, water and medical care. As of last night, the hurricane and flooding had claimed 426 lives and displaced about a million people.
Partly as a result, Bush's job-approval rating has sunk below 40 percent in various polls, the worst showing so far in his presidency.
Yesterday, Bush told hurricane victims that "recovery is on the way" and that progress is being made, although "a lot of serious and hard work" has yet to be done. He said relations among various levels of government have improved and that people "are beginning to think about ... the long-term revival of New Orleans" and surrounding parishes.
He strenuously denied allegations that relief was delayed because so many victims were poor and black. "The storm didn't discriminate, and neither will the recovery effort," he said.
Bush said he knew that there has been a lot of "second-guessing" and that there will be time for learning lessons and finding out what went wrong. But he complained that there has been too much of a "blame game" occurring, and he rejected it.
"My attitude is that we need to learn everything we possibly can. We need to make sure that this country is knitted up as well as it can be in order to deal with significant problems and disasters," he said. "Meantime, we got to keep moving forward."
If Bush decides to nominate Paulison as permanent head of FEMA, he will need to be confirmed by the Senate, although he was confirmed previously to head the U.S. Fire Administration, which is now part of FEMA. Such hearings are certain to be fiery recriminations of what went wrong with relief efforts in the immediate aftermath of Katrina.
Chertoff said in a statement last night that he expected to make additional appointments to the FEMA team, "including a permanent deputy director to augment the resources available to assist with FEMA's vital mission." A number of top FEMA officials are political appointees with little or no disaster relief experience.
Today, the president travels to New York to meet with various world leaders before making a speech at the United Nations tomorrow. Asked by reporters if he were ready to switch from the demands of hurricane recovery to refocus on foreign policy, he replied, "I can do more than one thing at one time."
He added that he hoped by the time his presidential term ends that Americans would realize that the government and individuals in it can do more than one thing at one time. He has a hurricane recovery briefing every morning, he said. "If I'm focusing on the hurricane, I've got the capacity to focus on foreign policy and vice versa."


Let's have competence, not cronyism, at FEMA
Monday, September 12, 2005
It is a positive move that Michael Brown, the director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, has been recalled from directly handling relief efforts in the Gulf Coast.
But President Bush should go one step further and remove Brown entirely. Until that happens, the American public won't be convinced that the nation's emergency management is run by those picked for their competence and experience, not because they were college roommates of a party political operative.
The Washington Post reported Friday that five of FEMA's eight top managers are there because of political connections and did not have emergency management experience.
And, it also was reported, Brown appears to have padded his resume to exaggerate his level of responsibility in several jobs.
It seems that FEMA's incompetence is not just a matter of public perception, there are internal indications of it as well. Last year, the American Federation of Government Employees surveyed FEMA's career professionals. Of the 84 who responded, only 10 said the agency's leadership was good. Fifty said they would move to another agency if they could keep the same pay grade and 67 said FEMA was in worse shape after having been folded into the Department of Homeland Security.
There's nothing new about cronyism in Washington. Handing out government posts to political supporters and campaign fund-raisers is fairly common.
But it appears to have reached new heights in the current FEMA.
Unfortunately, our nation is grappling with the aftermath of a horrific disaster. Hundreds of thousands of Americans are displaced. An unknown number were killed by Hurricane Katrina, or drowned the next day when levees failed in New Orleans, or died still later from lack of food, water or medical attention.
Given the magnitude of this crisis, Americans would be reassured to know that federal rescue, relief and reconstruction efforts are being led by people who have their jobs because of their experience and competence -- not because of their political connections.


DHS personnel ruling will affect Pentagon, senator says
By Alyson Klein, CongressDaily
Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Chairwoman Susan Collins, R-Maine, said a court ruling last month that struck down some of the Homeland Security Department's personnel regulations could require the department to "go back to the drawing board" and might force the Pentagon to "take a harder look" at its personnel proposal scheduled to be put in place later this year.
U.S. District Court Judge Rosemary Collyer, in throwing out the rules, said they do not provide for collective bargaining. Collins said this week she was concerned that DHS drew up regulations that did not "reflect congressional intent."
A spokesman for House Government Reform Chairman Tom Davis, R-Va., whose panel also oversees federal workers, would only say of the ruling's ramifications: "It's too early in the process to predict the outcome of the litigation or how it will affect other systems."
DHS announced last week that it would delay implementation of the new personnel system, scheduled to go into effect in January, for at least a year. It is not clear whether that decision was related to the court ruling, or what changes -- if any -- would be made before implementation. Ward Morrow, assistant general counsel for the American Federation of Governmental Employees, the largest of four unions that filed the suit, said DHS may ask to simply revisit the labor relations portion of the regulations, rather than rewrite the whole system. A spokesman for the Justice Department, which is handling the court case, did not return calls.
The Pentagon plans to continue tweaking its personnel rules before releasing them this fall, according to a spokeswoman for the National Security Personnel System, which is responsible for drafting the regulations. She said NSPS has "gone through an extensive meet-and-confer process with our unions" and received thousands of public comments on its draft regulations. She said the office would be making changes but attributed those revisions to the feedback it received, not the court ruling. Still, Morrow said AFGE was likely to challenge the Pentagon's regulations after they are released because, in the union's view, NSPS did not follow Congress' guidelines for the comment process.
When introduced earlier this year, the revamped Homeland Security and Pentagon personnel regulations were heralded as models for a new, governmentwide human resources system. Although OMB circulated draft legislation this spring overhauling the federal personnel system, Collins and Davis have yet to act on it. House Government Reform ranking member Henry Waxman, D-Calif., who applauded the court ruling, said in a statement that it "should send a signal to both the administration and Congress to slow down on any government-wide personnel changes."


Sheila Lennon: FEMA chief relieved of Katrina duties; TIME questions Brown's resume; NOLA musicians play Texas; HST suicide note
September 9, 2005
By Sheila Lennon / The Providence (R.I.) Journal
1:45 p.m. Friday (Blogroll)
FEMA Chief Relieved of Katrina Duties: AP.
Federal Emergency Management Agency Director Michael Brown is being removed from his role managing Hurricane Katrina relief efforts, The Associated Press has learned.
Brown is being sent back to Washington from Baton Rouge, where he was the primary official overseeing the federal government's response to the disaster, according to two federal officials who declined to be identified before the announcement.
Brown will be replaced by Coast Guard Vice Adm. Thad w. Allen, who was overseeing New Orleans relief and rescue efforts....
2:55 a.m.
ABC News: FEMA Was Unprepared for Katrina Relief Effort, Insiders Say. The lifers warned Congress last year:
... But inside FEMA, longtime emergency managers were convinced the agency was not ready for Katrina.
"All of us were just shaking our heads and saying, 'This isn't going to be enough, and the director (Michael Brown, photo at right) has to know this isn't going to be enough.' But nothing more seemed to be happening," said Leo Bosner, president of the FEMA Headquarters Employees Union.
Bosner has been with FEMA since it began 26 years ago. He says the agency has been systematically dismantled since it became part of the massive Department of Homeland Security.
"One of the big differences I see," said Bosner, "besides taking away our staff and our budget and our training, is that Homeland Security now, in my view, slows down the process."
The union warned Congress in a detailed letter about FEMA's decline a year ago. State emergency managers also warned Capitol Hill and Homeland Security just weeks ago that DHS was too focused on one thing — terrorism....
FEMA assistance application only works with IE 6 and Windows. Mac, Linux, Netscape, Safari, Mozilla, Firefox users, no assistance form for you. Unless you install doohickies I've never heard of. Xeni Jardin at BoingBong is collecting the evidence.
How Reliable Is Brown's Resume? A TIME investigation reveals discrepancies in the FEMA chief's official biographies.
Big Easy musicians find refuge in Austin
Big Easy musicians taking Texas stages. Chron.
'Rolling Stone' publishes Hunter S. Thompson note: AP
Rolling Stone, the magazine that was home for years to Hunter S. Thompson, will publish a note (today) written by the gonzo journalist days before he committed suicide in February.
(Udate: published now.)
Douglas Brinkley, the presidential historian who is also Thompson's official biographer, writes that a Feb. 16 note may be Thompson's final written words. It reads:
"No More Games. No More Bombs. No More Walking. No More Fun. No More Swimming. 67. That is 17 years past 50. 17 more than I needed or wanted. Boring. I am always bitchy. No Fun - for anybody. 67. You are getting Greedy. Act your old age. Relax - This won't hurt."
Hunter left the note for his wife, Anita. He shot himself four days later at his home in Aspen, Colo., after weeks of pain from a host of physical problems that included a broken leg and a hip replacement.


Legal Wrangling, Implementation Woes Slow Rollout of New Pay Systems
By Stephen Barr
Tuesday, September 13, 2005; B02
Bush administration officials claim that their plans to overhaul workplace rules at two of the government's biggest departments will permit more flexible management of employees. But before flexibility come delay and uncertainty.
The Department of Homeland Security announced last week that it would postpone the start of a performance- and occupation-based pay system until January 2007. The move means that employees in the first phase of the conversion will not see changes in their paychecks until 2008.
In early summer, the Defense Department said the launch of the personnel system, which had been scheduled for July, was being delayed until early fiscal 2006, which starts Oct. 1. But the department has not issued final rules, which will trigger a 30-day waiting period for congressional review.
Further delay could prove vexing for the Pentagon, which has said it wants to roll out its new performance and pay system in January. The first wave of employees in the new system would see their pay affected in January 2007, under the Pentagon's phased approach.
The departments, which received green lights from Congress to shake up their workplace rules, plan to shift their civil service employees into dynamic pay systems that feature broad salary ranges, rigorous job performance ratings and pay variations in occupations because of local and national labor market demands. The departments would abolish the decades-old, 15-grade General Schedule, cherished by many federal employees because it offers raises in a predictable manner.
Bush administration officials want to extend the Defense and Homeland Security models to the rest of the government, arguing that the GS system rewards all employees equally, regardless of how well they do on the job. The administration has proposed a bill and awaits a congressional hearing.
Federal unions, meanwhile, are adamantly opposed to the pay changes and related proposals to scale back union rights and streamline employees' rights to appeal. They have filed lawsuits against the departments and promise to return to court when the Pentagon issues the final rules to create the National Security Personnel System.
Last month, a federal judge issued an order preventing the Department of Homeland Security from starting its new labor-management system. In one of her findings, U.S. District Judge Rosemary M. Collyer said the department's new rules did not ensure collective bargaining rights for employees.
But she suggested that the department was on the right track with its plan to limit the number of subjects that could be put on the bargaining table for negotiations with unions and invited the department to come back with a different approach.
Late last month, the government asked the judge to narrow her order so that it applied only to the provisions that she found invalid "and allow the remainder to become effective."
The National Treasury Employees Union responded Friday, telling the judge that she was correct to block all labor-management changes because the regulatory provisions are intertwined and cannot be separated. The union contends that the department should junk its labor-management proposal and go back to the drawing board.
The government has asked Collyer for a ruling on its motion by Oct. 7. Once the judge rules, the government and the union will have 60 days to file appeals.
In the midst of the legal wrangling, Homeland Security officials told their employees that the start of the new pay system would be pushed back a year. The department said it will apply new rules for managing and rating employee performance to nonunion workers in five bureaus and at headquarters next year.
The litigation, however, might not have caused the delay in the rollout of Homeland Security's pay system. Several congressional aides and NTEU believe the department is not ready for implementation and needs to spend more time on the system's design.
In a statement, the department hinted that implementation is an issue, saying that "successful performance management is the linchpin of organizational success . . . and remains a top priority."
At the Pentagon, officials have talked of shifting 60,000 employees into a new job performance rating system next month. Officials also had planned for more restrictive union rules to take effect this month. But that won't happen because the final regulation is still pending.

Join AFGE Today


Shutdown Lawsuit

Diversity Week

I Serve Veterans

Behind the Scenes

AFGE Events

Event Calendar is for Members Only. Please Log In to see our calendar of events.


SUBSCRIBE Latest news & info