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Hurricane Katrina

FEMA flash point sent home

Michael Brown, the man at the center of the response controversy, is relieved of his duties in the disaster region.

By wire services
Published September 10, 2005

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WASHINGTON - The Bush administration removed Michael Brown, the embattled director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, from the Gulf Coast disaster zone Friday as the White House tried to regain footing amid criticism of its response to Hurricane Katrina.

A week after President Bush praised him for doing "a heck of a job," Brown was stripped of duties overseeing relief efforts and ordered back to Washington. Although Brown remains FEMA director and the administration presented it as a deployment decision, officials privately said the White House wanted a more effective, hands-on manager at the scene.

Brown, a lawyer and former horse association official, has become the focal point for anger over the slow, disjointed mobilization when Katrina slammed into the coast last week, drowning New Orleans and wiping out whole sections of Mississippi and Alabama. But demands for his dismissal were also a proxy for assailing Bush's own handling of the crisis as well as past moves restructuring FEMA and populating its top ranks with political allies.

The decision to sideline Brown on Friday was an implicit rebuke of a top aide by Bush, who rarely fires or publicly disciplines lieutenants as long as they are loyal. The move came as the White House announced that Bush will return to the devastated Gulf Coast for a third time Sunday.

In traveling to the region on the fourth anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, Bush hopes to rekindle the sense of broad national purpose that rallied the public behind him then.

"America is a strong and resilient nation," Bush said in one of two public appearances in Washington on Friday that he used to rhetorically link the trials of Katrina to Sept. 11. "Our people have the spirit, the resources and the determination to overcome any challenge."

The president made no mention of his own staff's performance Friday, and his spokesman declined to express confidence in Brown when asked at a briefing.

Brown's removal was announced by Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff at a news conference in Baton Rouge, La. With Brown at his side, Chertoff said he was sending the FEMA director back to Washington and placing Coast Guard Vice Adm. Thad W. Allen in charge of the hurricane recovery efforts.

When a reporter asked Brown if he would resign and if he would respond to a Time magazine report that he inflated his resume, Chertoff interrupted.

"Here are the ground rules: I'm going to answer the questions," Chertoff said. "I've explained what we're doing. . . . Next question."

Information from the Washington Post and Associated Press was used in this report.


AGE: 56

EDUCATION: Bachelor's degree from MIT's Sloan School of Management; master's degree in public administration, George Washington University.

CAREER: In Coast Guard since 1971, when he graduated from U.S. Coast Guard Academy. Has been chief of staff since 2002, making him the Coast Guard's third in command. On Sept. 11, 2001, Allen was commander of all Coast Guard operations east of the Rocky Mountains. In the days after the terrorist attacks, he made sure the ports and waterways were secure and that local responders in the New York area had the vessels, aircraft and personnel they needed. Prior to that, he was involved in search and rescue missions and later directed them in the Caribbean. He headed Coast Guard operations in the Southeast United States and the Caribbean, where he was responsible for 15,000 search and rescue missions.

FAMILY: Wife Pamela is assistant dean for student services at the George Mason University School of Management. They have three grown children and two grandchildren.

[Last modified September 10, 2005, 01:24:05]

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