HUFFINGTON POST

Fmr. FEMA Chief: Department Of Homeland Security Is "A Bureaucratic Black Hole"...

03/28/2008 02:44 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Former FEMA Chief Michael Brown appeared on ABC's This Week with George Stephanopoulos this morning to talk about Hurricane Katrina one year later. Brown lost his position in the aftermath of the storm, and shouldered a great deal of blame for the fallout from the hurricane that leveled catastrophic damage at New Orleans. Earlier today he talked about his own mistakes, as well as the institutional faults of a government wholly unprepared for a natural disaster of Katrina's magnitude.

The following is excerpted from today's This Week:

...Host George Stephanopoulos: So what happened?

Former FEMA Chief Mike Brown: There was a complete break down of government at every level: federal, state and local. The locals weren't ready, the state was overwhelmed, and the feds for some reason, and I think primarily because we didn't...

Stephanopoulos: But how about you?

Brown: Well of course I failed, because I made many mistakes. The biggest mistake that I've said that I made was not standing up and saying at the beginning of this storm and saying: 'it's catastrophic, I can't get what I need and this isn't working.'

Stephanopoulos: Your boss, Mike Chertoff, who did let you go, says that he was counting on you for an evacuation plan, but he couldn't find you...take a look...

video clip of archival footage from This Week showing Homeland Security Chief Michael Chertoff alleging that he could not reach Mike Brown during the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Katrina

...Stephanopoulos: You know the Senate report concurs with that; it says that Governor Blanco asked you for 500 buses on Monday, you told her the buses were on the way but they didn't show up until late Wednesday and Thursday.

Brown: Let me talk about two things: one is, Secretary Chertoff talks about 'your man on the ground needs to be running things,' and that's exactly right. I wasn't running around 'looking at damage,' I was running around looking at the teams, finding out what they needed. In Florida in 2004 we were everywhere we needed to be. You can't run a disaster sitting in an office somewhere, which is what Chertoff wanted me to do.

Stephanopoulos: But why didn't you get the buses there?

Brown: The buses is a separate issue. That shows the bureaucracy that exists within DHS [Department of Homeland Security]. Prior to FEMA going to DHS, if you were my procurement officer, I would look at you and say 'George, I need 500 buses, I don't care what they cost, get them.' In the DHS model, I turn to you and I say 'George, I'll cover your rear-end if you get me the buses no matter what they cost,' but you now have to go to the DHS procurement officer, who then goes to the under-secretary for management, who then goes to the Secretary of Homeland Security, who then might go to the Secretary of Transportation. Those buses fell into a bureaucratic black hole, which is unacceptable. DHS is too big, and FEMA shouldn't be in it...

...Stephanopoulos: You mentioned the bureaucratic black hole that is DHS. Given what you think about DHS right now, do you think New Orleans, do you think the Gulf Coast, could handle Ernesto if indeed it does land?

Brown: Well, I hope so. I heard an incredible comment from Secretary Chertoff last night that said 'it takes years to do planning for a catastrophic event.' That is a fascinating comment, because in 2003 that's when I first approached Secretary Ridge and said 'we need to start doing catastrophic disaster planning...

...Stephanopoulos: But then you ignored the plan when it came out, that's what all the reports say.

Brown: No, we had no plan...

...Stephanopoulos: You've admitted that it was a mistake for you to play along with the White House message during Katrina, and in Playboy Magazine you called that 'a lie,' the White House Message. What was the lie?

Brown: The lie was that we were ready and that everything was working as a team. Behind the scenes it wasn't working at all. There were political considerations going in to all the discussions, there was the fact that New Orleans did not evacuate, and the mayor had no plan, the mayor didn't do what he was supposed to do. And so we were stepping in there and talking about 'we're working as a team,' everything's going the way it's supposed to do, those were the talking points.

Stephanopoulos: Why did the White House want you to lie?

Brown: Well because they want to just talk about how great thing are going. You always want to put the spin on that things are working the way they're supposed to do, and behind the scenes they're not. Again, my biggest mistake was just not leveling with the American public and saying, 'folks, this isn't working'...

To watch the full video of the interview, visit ABC News: This Week...

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