He's been called an idiot, an incompetent and worse. The vilification of federal disaster chief Michael Brown, emerging as chief scapegoat for whatever went wrong in the government's response to Hurricane Katrina, has ratcheted into the stratosphere. Democratic members of Congress are taking turms to call for his head.
A more visceral indictment came from closer to the calamity. Aaron Broussard, president of Jefferson Parish near New Orleans, said the bureaucracy "has murdered people in the greater New Orleans area. Take whatever idiot they have at the top of whatever agency and give me a better idiot," he told CBS television. "Give me a caring idiot. Give me a sensitive idiot. Just don't give me the same idiot." Brown, a 50-year-old lawyer, in some ways is an easy target. The former head of the International Arabian Horse Association, Brown had no background in disaster relief when old college friend and then-FEMA Director Joe Allbaugh hired him to serve as the agency's lawyer in 2001. But the dim view of Brown's qualifications by senators seems to have emerged only in hindsight. Members of both parties seemed little troubled by his background at 2002 Senate hearings that led to his confirmation as deputy FEMA chief. As FEMA chief, Brown has pressed for greater attention to natural disaster planning, including strategies for a major hurricane in New Orleans, and he has had to contend with cuts to FEMA's operating budget while more attention was paid to fighting terrorism. But as the enormity of the Gulf Coast damage gradually came into clearer focus, Brown did not help his case with a number of comments seen as insensitive or ill-advised. For example, he acknowledged last week that he didn't know there were some 20,000 evacuees enduring heinous conditions at the New Orleans convention center until a day after their difficulties had been widely reported in the news. But, for now at least, President George W. Bush is standing by his embattled FEMA chief, AP reports.