News from the Tennessee Valley Opinion


Mike Brown should never have been head of FEMA

By training and example, Mike Brown was the wrong person to head the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

To have fired him, President Bush would have had to admit as much, so Mr. Brown resigned Monday for the good of Hurricane Katrina relief efforts.

How Mr. Brown got to such an important position on the strength of his resume as a lawyer and head of the International Arabian Horse Association will be the subject of more conversation. It does suggest what many critics have suspected, that the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Department of Homeland Security may be top heavy with politics and good-old-boy federal grants.

The person to replace Mr. Brown is a tacit acknowledgement that the administration now sees the need for strong leadership and experience at FEMA. R. David Paulison, a front-line veteran at directing emergency relief, took over immediately after Mr. Brown resigned.

The experiences from Katrina demand that emergency management be re-examined from top to bottom, from the halls of Washington to the local courthouses and city halls.

The hurricane aftermath has become so politicized, however, that getting to the bottom of the initial failures to respond adequately may be difficult.

Some people want to blame the victims, and some say the city of New Orleans provided no leadership. Others saw the governor as doing a lot of hand wringing as the levees collapsed and water flooded the city. Public opinion polls show Americans believe the Bush administration could have done more to help.

With enough blame to be generously shared, each level of government must be accountable for its response and leadership. But remember that no matter how expertly and quickly help might have arrived, New Orleans was going to be a disaster.

The question that really needs an honest answer is: How could we have done better?

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