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Brown Defends FEMA's Efforts

Michael D. Brown testified for six hours in front of a House panel investigating the response to Hurricane Katrina.
Michael D. Brown testified for six hours in front of a House panel investigating the response to Hurricane Katrina. (By Joe Raedle -- Getty Images)

Except for Taylor and Rep. William J. Jefferson (La.), Democrats boycotted the panel, which Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) called a partisan whitewash. They said they will seek a floor vote on forming an independent investigation akin to the one that explored the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

Rep. Thomas M. Davis III (Va.), chairman of the GOP-led House select investigative committee, promised a thorough, fair inquiry.

Brown, a lawyer and former commissioner of an Arabian horse association, became the focal point of anger after the storm, which killed more than 1,000 people and caused more than $100 billion in damage. Bush initially stood by Brown, saying he was "doing a heck of a job," before Brown was recalled to Washington on Sept. 9. He resigned three days later.

Critics have said Brown's political ties to the White House and lack of qualifications symbolized an inept and inattentive administration.

Yesterday, Brown took his turn defending himself, speaking in alternately combative and contrite tones, flanked by FEMA's counsel and his personal lawyer.

"The way that FEMA works with state and local officials is well-established, and it's worked well," said Brown, who remains on the FEMA payroll until Oct. 10 at $148,000 a year as a consultant on a Katrina review. "Unfortunately, this is the approach that FEMA had great difficulty in getting established within Louisiana."

Brown said he communicated several times with the White House, including Bush and Chief of Staff Andrew H. Card Jr. and his deputy, Joseph Hagin, starting two days before the storm.

But Brown said that over three years, FEMA's operating funds were cut 14.5 percent by the Department of Homeland Security and that he probably should have resigned in protest.

He acknowledged that he should have asked the president to push state and city officials to call an evacuation and perhaps federalized the National Guard earlier, and said he did not know what happened to his early requests for military help. He also said he learned at 10 a.m. Aug. 29 that New Orleans's levees had broken, a day earlier than officials have acknowledged.

Staff writers Charles Babington, William Branigin and Susan B. Glasser in Washington and Ceci Connolly in New Orleans contributed to this report.

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