Katrina hearings expose cronyism

Former head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency Michael Brown appeared in front of a congressional committee on Tuesday. The hearing intended to find out what went wrong with the response to Hurricane Katrina. Brown resigned after public outrage over bad preparation and equally bungled rescue missions in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. It was therefore quite surprising to see him cast most of the blame onto local and state authorities claiming they had not formally asked for help. The fact is, they did, and FEMA largely ignored it.

A letter addressed to President George W. Bush via FEMA clearly outlines the requests. Dated Aug. 28 and signed by Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco, it asks for an “expedited major disaster to be declared” for the “state of Louisiana.” The letter then goes on to specify the “affected areas” should “include all the southeastern parishes, including the city of New Orleans.”

Most importantly, Blanco wrote, “Based on the predictions we have received from the National Weather Service and other sources, I have determined this incident will be of such severity and magnitude that effective response will be beyond the capabilities of the state and the affected local governments and that supplementary federal assistance will be necessary.”

There was no way to interpret the letter as a sign that local authorities were well prepared for the approaching hurricane and Brown must have either known this or be even more incompetent than previously thought.

To lie to a congressional committee while under oath is perjury. While Brown’s actions may be illegal, it is doubtful that he will be held responsible for such a violation. Brown did, after all, receive his job as head of FEMA because former head of FEMA Joseph Albaugh had been his roommate in college. It is safe to say that if Albaugh had not personally recommended Brown to President George W. Bush, Brown would not have become head of FEMA, as he lacked any experience in leading such an organization.

Similarly, Brown had allotted $30 million in hurricane relief funds to the city of Miami in 2004 to help it recover from Hurricane Frances. The city was not affected by the storm and should not have received funds. Cries for Brown to resign were heard, yet he mysteriously managed to hang onto his job even though the evidence was clear and damning. Now, despite signs of his incompetence being even more damning than in 2004, he still remains on FEMA’s payroll as a consultant.

As though the events surrounding Hurricane Katrina were not tragic enough by themselves, the hearings intended to shed light on errors being made are now quickly turning into a textbook case of cronyism and coverups.