Nov 3rd, 2005, 10:00 AM
More Proof Brownie did a Heck of a Job
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Former Federal Emergency Management Director Michael Brown, who resigned after stinging criticism of his handling of the aftermath of the Hurricane Katrina, exchanged e-mails about his appearance on the day of the storm and seemed "out of touch" after Katrina hit the Gulf Coast, a Louisiana congressman charged Wednesday.
"In the midst of the overwhelming damage caused by the hurricane and enormous problems faced by FEMA, Mr. Brown found time to exchange e-mails about superfluous topics," including "problems finding a dog-sitter," according to Rep. Charlie Melancon, D-Louisiana, who posted the e-mails on his Web site. (Copies of e-mails -- PDFexternal link)
Some of the e-mails from Brown indicate he may have been overwhelmed by his responsibilities, Melancon said.
In an e-mail he sent the morning of the hurricane to Cindy Taylor, FEMA's deputy director of public affairs, Brown wrote, "Can I quit now? Can I come home?" A few days later, Brown wrote to an acquaintance, "I'm trapped now, please rescue me."
Melancon, whose district south of New Orleans was devastated by the hurricane, said Brown's lack of leadership and concern is illustrated in more than 1,000 e-mails provided to the House committee now assessing responses to the disaster by all levels of government.
Melancon said that on August 26, just days before Katrina made landfall, Brown e-mailed his press secretary, Sharon Worthy, about his attire, asking: "Tie or not for tonight? Button down blue shirt?"
A few days later, Worthy advised Brown: "Please roll up the sleeves of your shirt all shirts. Even the President rolled his sleeves to just below the elbow. In this [crisis] and on TV you just need to look more hard-working."
On August 29, the day of the storm, Brown exchanged e-mails about his attire with Taylor, Melancon said. She told him, "You look fabulous," and Brown replied, "I got it at Nordstroms. ... Are you proud of me?"
An hour later, Brown added: "If you'll look at my lovely FEMA attire, you'll really vomit. I am a fashion god," according to the congressman.
The e-mails came from Homeland Security Director Michael Chertoff, who oversees FEMA, following a request by Melancon and Rep. Tom Davis, R-Virginia, chairman of a House committee appointed to investigate what went wrong during Katrina, Melancon said.
Although Chertoff has not turned over all the documents requested by the committee, Melancon charged that the material received so far contradicts testimony by Brown before the committee in which he described himself as an effective leader.
Brown resigned in September amid accusations that FEMA acted too slowly after Katrina hammered Louisiana and Mississippi, killing more than 1,200 people. He defended the government's response and blamed leaders in Louisiana for failing to act quickly as the hurricane approached.
He acknowledged he made some mistakes as FEMA's director, but he stressed that the agency "is not a first responder," insisting that role belonged to state and local officials.
Brown could not be reached for comment Wednesday night on the e-mails and Melancon's charges.
The lawmaker cited several e-mails that he said show Brown's failures. (Melancon's analysis of e-mails -- PDFexternal link)
For instance, two days after Katrina, Marty Bahamonde, one of the only FEMA employees in New Orleans, wrote to Brown that "the situation is past critical."
"Here are some things you might not know. Hotels are kicking people out, thousands gathering in the streets with no food or water. Hundreds still being rescued from homes," Bahamonde said.
"The dying patients at the DMAT (Disaster Medical Assistance Team) tent being medivac. Estimates are many will die within hours. Evacuation in process. Plans developing for [Superdome] evacuation but hotel situation adding to problem. We are out of food and running out of water at the dome, plans in works to address the critical need.
"FEMA staff is OK and holding own. DMAT staff working in deplorable conditions. The sooner we can get the medical patients out, the sooner we can get them out. Phone connectivity impossible."
Brown's entire response was: "Thanks for the update. Anything specific I need to do or tweak?"
Two days later, on September 2, Brown received a message with the subject "Medical help." At the time, thousands of patients were being transported to the New Orleans airport, which had been converted to a makeshift hospital. Because of a lack of ventilators, medical personnel had to ventilate patients by hand for as long as 35 hours, according to Melancon.
The text of the e-mail reads: "Mike, Mickey and other medical equipment people have a 42 ft. trailer full of beds, wheelchairs, oxygen concentrators, etc. They are wanting to take them where they can be used but need direction.
"Mickey specializes in ventilator patients so can be very helpful with acute care patients. If you could have someone contact him and let him know if he can be of service, he would appreciate it. Know you are busy but they really want to help."
Melancon said Brown didn't respond for four days, when he forwarded the original e-mail to FEMA Deputy Chief of Staff Brooks Altshuler and Deputy Director of Response Michael Lowder.
The text of Brown's e-mail to them read: "Can we use these people?"
Melancon also charged that few of the e-mails from Brown show him assigning specific tasks to employees or responding to pressing problems
On September 1, FEMA officials exchanged e-mails reporting severe shortages of ice and water in Mississippi. They were to receive 60 trucks of ice and 26 trucks of water the next day, even though they needed 450 trucks of each.
Robert Fenton, a FEMA regional response official, predicted "serious riots" if insufficient supplies arrive.
Brown was forwarded the series of e-mails about the problem, but no response from him is shown in the e-mails provided to the committee, Melancon said.
Katrina came ashore along the Louisiana-Mississippi state line, after being downgraded from a Category 5 to a Category 4 storm. It flooded 80 percent of New Orleans. It was followed about a month later by Hurricane Rita, which caused more damage and flooding.
Melancon and several other Democrats from districts directly affected by Katrina were invited to participate as a ex-officio members of the Katrina investigative committee, though they have no formal role. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi refused to appoint any Democrats to the panel after GOP leaders rebuffed Democratic demands for an independent probe.
This is all pretty funny in an appalling, black humored way, but if it doesn't make peope start taking a very active agressive look at other Bush appointees and their abilities, it's very, very scary.