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September 11, 2005 - Falling Upward at FEMA

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The mainstream media catches up.  Late Thursday evening, September 8, Time Magazine caught up with what had been all over the web.  They published How Reliable Is Brown's Resume? - byline Daren Fonda and Healy, with the subhead "A TIME investigation reveals discrepancies in the FEMA chief's official biographies."

This had been all over the web logs for ten days.  But Fonda And Healy add some fresh details, or if you cannot doubt the administration, take some cheap shots:


Before joining FEMA, his only previous stint in emergency management, according to his bio posted on FEMA's website, was "serving as an assistant city manager with emergency services oversight." The White House press release from 2001 stated that Brown worked for the city of Edmond, Okla., from 1975 to 1978 "overseeing the emergency services division." In fact, according to Claudia Deakins, head of public relations for the city of Edmond, Brown was an "assistant to the city manager" from 1977 to 1980, not a manager himself, and had no authority over other employees. "The assistant is more like an intern," she told TIME. "Department heads did not report to him." Brown did do a good job at his humble position, however, according to his boss. "Yes. Mike Brown worked for me. He was my administrative assistant. He was a student at Central State University," recalls former city manager Bill Dashner. "Mike used to handle a lot of details. Every now and again I'd ask him to write me a speech. He was very loyal. He was always on time. He always had on a suit and a starched white shirt."

In response, Nicol Andrews, deputy strategic director in FEMA's office of public affairs, insists that while Brown began as an intern, he became an "assistant city manager" with a distinguished record of service. "According to Mike Brown," she says, "a large portion [of the points raised by TIME] is very inaccurate."


How so? This calls for some major league spinning, particularly with stuff like this:


Under the "honors and awards" section of his profile at FindLaw.com - which is information on the legal website provided by lawyers or their offices - he lists "Outstanding Political Science Professor, Central State University". However, Brown "wasn't a professor here, he was only a student here," says Charles Johnson, News Bureau Director in the University Relations office at the University of Central Oklahoma (formerly named Central State University). "He may have been an adjunct instructor," says Johnson, but that title is very different from that of "professor." Carl Reherman, a former political science professor at the University through the '70s and '80s, says that Brown "was not on the faculty." As for the honor of "Outstanding Political Science Professor," Johnson says, "I spoke with the department chair yesterday and he's not aware of it." Johnson could not confirm that Brown made the Dean's list or was an "Outstanding Political Science Senior," as is stated on his online profile.


Oh crap. And then there's this:


Under the heading of "Professional Associations and Memberships" on FindLaw, Brown states that from 1983 to the present he has been director of the Oklahoma Christian Home, a nursing home in Edmond. But an administrator with the Home told TIME that Brown is "not a person that anyone here is familiar with." She says there was a board of directors until a couple of years ago, but she couldn't find anyone who recalled him being on it. According to FEMA's Andrews, Brown said "he's never claimed to be the director of the home. He was on the board of directors, or governors of the nursing home." However, a veteran employee at the center since 1981 says Brown "was never director here, was never on the board of directors, was never executive director. He was never here in any capacity. I never heard his name mentioned here."

The FindLaw profile for Brown was amended on Thursday to remove a reference to his tenure at the International Arabian Horse Association, which has become a contested point.


Trouble here.  And it's all over the news, as if this were a breaking story.  The Washington Post on Friday, September 9 runs it on the front page with Leaders Lacking Disaster Experience.  Reuters runs with it here, but the news they report is that Time Magazine has run this amazing story - they are reporting on reporting.


So the man was relieved of his command.  Michael Brown was taken off the hurricane thing - but he's still head of FEMA - a "big picture" guy now - he can't be bothered with detail like the common folk.  We have a Coast Guard Vice Admiral for that now.  And he's good – even competent!  As Daniel Moynihan once said, "The single most exciting thing you encounter in government is competence, because it's so rare."



As mentioned previously here and in so many places, Michael D. Brown, the man who is the head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, had been under withering fire for some time in the political sense of course.


Here's the history –


As Lauren Rosen first put it way back on September 1: "My lord, the guy heading FEMA has no qualifications. What was he doing before getting pulled into FEMA by the Bush administration in 2003? He was an estate-planning lawyer in Colorado and of counsel for the International Arabian Horse Association Legal Department. And yes, it is the same Michael D. Brown."

Her item has internal links to the facts, and then there was this additional information - the International Arabian Horse Association (IAHA) Legal Department asked Brown to resign, or be fired, and earlier in the year there were calls for him to resign as head of FEMA, because FEMA seems to have inappropriately distributed thirty million dollars in disaster relief funds to people in the Miami area even though they were not affected by Hurricane Frances, which made landfall more than one hundred miles away - the link has more detail. He takes care of his friends. And there was this from the New Orleans Times-Picayune September 2nd - current issues with breaking agreements.

But now that this is in Time this is "real" news.

But as they say on the television infomercials, "But wait - there's more!"

Late in the week, this appeared in The National Review


When Brown left the IAHA four years ago, he was, among other things, a failed former lawyer - a man with a 20-year-old degree from a semi-accredited law school who hadn't attempted to practice law in a serious way in nearly 15 years and who had just been forced out of his job in the wake of charges of impropriety. At this point in his life, returning to his long-abandoned legal career would have been very difficult in the competitive Colorado legal market. Yet, within months of leaving the IAHA, he was handed one of the top legal positions in the entire federal government: general counsel for a major federal agency. A year later, he was made its number-two official, and, a year after that, Bush appointed him director of FEMA.

It's bad enough when attorneys are named to government jobs for which their careers, no matter how distinguished, don't qualify them. But Brown wasn't a distinguished lawyer: He was hardly a lawyer at all. When he left the IAHA, he was a 47-year-old with a very thin résumé and no job. Yet he was also what's known in the Mafia as a "connected guy." That such a person could end up in one of the federal government's most important positions tells you all you need to know about how the Bush administration works - or, rather, doesn't.


The legwork on this was done here - with this addition: the Oklahoma City University School of Law did become a member of the American Association of Law Schools in 2003.  However, at the time of Brown's hiring in 2001 by the horse people, it was not a member.

Why are these stories coming up now? A blogger in Salt Lake City has a possible answer to that: "Mr Bush is loyal to appointees. But leaks against Mr Brown, about a lack of qualifications for the job - suspected of originating in the White House, suggest he is being lined up as designated fall guy, in an attempt to save the necks of those higher up."

That is echoed here:

Dangling Man
Michael Brown twists slowly in the wind.
John Dickerson - Thursday, Sept. 8, 2005, at 4:16 PM PT – SLATE.COM



Let's be serious. Michael Brown is a ghost. Firing him at this point would not be caving to the finger-pointers; it would merely be an act of compassionate conservatism. McClellan's refusal to give even tissue-thin cover to the embattled bureaucrat is a public signal that the White House is hot-stepping away from him. During his visit to the affected region today, Vice President Cheney singled out Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff for praise, but he did not mention the FEMA head.

In the ongoing relief effort, Brown has already been largely shoved aside. Vice Adm. Thad W. Allen, the Coast Guard's chief of staff, was assigned on Monday to be Brown's deputy and to take over operational control, a move widely promoted as righting the FEMA ship. Administration officials have been saying that operations started clicking along nicely as soon as Brown was neutered.

The only functional responsibility Brown retains is that of chief punching bag...


But he will NOT be fired?


What's different in this administration is how seriously Bush '43 takes loyalty - and how much he resents the consensus view of the permanent government in Washington. When the elites start calling for a firing, the president usually rescues his top aides and allies from the delusion and upset of public limbo. That's why past diagnoses of terminal conditions have so often been wrong. Washington wise men have declared Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld finished many times. They were certain Dick Cheney would never be kept on the ticket in 2004. It was a widespread assumption that John Bolton would never make it to the United Nations.

Bush has often privately told those under fire that such noises from the chattering class are actually a sign that "they must be doing something right." To send the same message in public, he takes the wounded on a stroll before the cameras. When editorial writers were calling for Tom DeLay's head, Bush brought the house majority leader on Marine One and strode in purposeful solidarity with him for the entire world to see. When Karl Rove's role in exposing a CIA agent became public, Bush quieted calls for his political adviser's head by strolling across the back lawn of the White House with him.


He'll stay.  Even though you get things like this from Jack Cafferty on CNN, Thursday, September 8 –


Somewhere along the way FEMA became a dumping ground for the president's political cronies with little experience in disaster relief. The agency's first director was Joe Allbaugh. He was president Bush's 2000 campaign chairman. Allbaugh brought in the current failure Michael Brown. His previous work was with Arabian horses. The number two guy, Brown's top deputy at FEMA, is a fellow named Patrick Rhode. He worked for the 2000 election campaign. The number three guy at FEMA is Brooks Altshuler. He used to work in the White House. His job was planning presidential trips. FEMA's long-term recovery director is a guy named Scott Morris. He produced television and radio commercials for the Bush campaign. The federal agency charged with handling national emergencies is staffed at the very top by a bunch of political hacks with virtually no experience that qualifies them to respond to something like Katrina. But I digress.

Where are the qualifications of these people? None of these guys is qualified based on the stuff I'm reading, to head up an emergency management agency. One of these guys worked with Arabian horses. The rest are all off the campaign trial. Planned presidential trips. Produced TV commercials. Don't you need somebody at the top running the organization who has some semblance of an idea of what the hell is required when there's an emergency?


Seems not.


And the same day this detail in the New York Daily News


WASHINGTON - The three top jobs at the Federal Emergency Management Agency under President Bush went to political cronies with no apparent experience coping with catastrophes, the Daily News has learned.

Even if Bush were to fire embattled and suddenly invisible FEMA Director Michael Brown over his handling of Hurricane Katrina, the bureaucrat immediately below him is no disaster professional, either.

While Brown ran horse shows in his last private-sector job, FEMA's No. 2 man, deputy director and chief of staff Patrick Rhode, was an advance man for the Bush-Cheney campaign and White House. He also did short stints at the Commerce Department and Small Business Administration.

Rhode's biography posted on FEMA's Web site doesn't indicate he has any real experience in emergency response.

In addition, the agency's former third-ranking official, deputy chief of staff Scott Morris, was a PR expert who worked for Maverick Media, the Texas outfit that produced TV and radio spots for the Bush-Cheney campaign. In June, Morris moved to Florida to become FEMA's long-term recovery director.


The most pointed reaction? That would be from Aaron Broussard, the president of Jefferson Parish, Louisiana, on the CBS "Early Show." Try this:


Bureaucracy has murdered people in the greater New Orleans area - so I'm asking Congress, please investigate this now. Take whatever idiot they have at the top of whatever agency and give me a better idiot. Give me a caring idiot. Give me a sensitive idiot. Just don't give me the same idiot.


As Bill Montgomery notes, "Clearly, this is a man with realistic expectations."

But wait - there's more!

One of my friends is an executive in the insurance industry.  She send this - FEMA Denies Aid to Fla. Katrina Victims - from the September 1 issue of Insurance Journal - not seen in the public press, only in this trade journal.

Note: "South Floridians whose homes were destroyed or heavily damaged by Hurricane Katrina will have to look elsewhere for someone to pay their lodging and repair expenses as the Federal Emergency Management Agency has refused their requests."

Note: "The same day FEMA denied individual assistance, the agency expanded the amount it plans to reimburse local governments for repairs to public property in Miami-Dade, Broward and Monroe counties. The assistance to local governments will probably amount to more than $100 million."

Note: "FEMA's individual assistance program would have provided up to $26,200 per household to pay for long-term rentals, repairs and temporary stays in hotels. In some cases, FEMA also pays for funerals for storm victims. While much of the damage in South Florida was nuisance flooding, such as wet carpets, poor neighborhoods were hit hardest, said Frank Kutnick, chief of recovery for the state of Florida. ''To the poorer populations, this is a big deal.'"

This is what FEMA is about.  Here's an animated version of what's happening.

And as a side note, see this in the Washington Post - The former head of FEMA, before Brown, Joseph Allbaugh, now head of his own Washington lobbying and consulting firm, was in Baton Rouge "helping his clients get business from perhaps the worst natural disaster in the nation's history."  Joe is, by the way, a registered lobbyist for Halliburton, among others.

It seems FEMA is an organization that exists to make corporations and political friends comfortable. And you thought it had another purpose?




A footnote:


Note this from Mark Kleiman at UCLA –


An appointment to a senior job is clearly a "matter within the jurisdiction of the executive ... branch of the Government of the United States."


Whoever, with respect to such a matter, knowingly and willfully-


(1) falsifies, conceals, or covers up by any trick, scheme, or device a material fact;
(2) makes any materially false, fictitious, or fraudulent statement or representation; or
(3) makes or uses any false writing or document knowing the same to contain any materially false, fictitious, or fraudulent statement or entry;


has violated 18 U.S.C. 1001 and is eligible for up to five years of free room and board at the taxpayers' expense.


So if in fact Michael Brown padded his resume to get his job at FEMA he committed a felony.


Since his incompetence at that position obviously cost many lives, perhaps the ordinary prosecutorial reluctance to criminalize resume-padding ought to be overcome in this case. At least, someone in Congress should ask the Attorney General to have the matter looked into.


Unlikely.  But if they end up really needing a scapegoat …


Copyright © 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006 - Alan M. Pavlik
The inclusion of any text from others is quotation
for the purpose of illustration and commentary,
as permitted by the fair use doctrine of U.S. copyright law. 
See the Details page for the relevant citation.

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