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04 November 2005

You're doing a helluva job, Brownie

Mighty Mike D. Brown of FEMA during a previous hurricane relief operation in Florida.

The e-mails of FEMA Administor Mighty Mike Brown themselves are photocopies and their text can't be copied and pasted. But you can read them from a link on Congressman Melancon's website.

It was busy a few hours ago because ...


The Congressman's staff analysis was copyable, though, and here are some of the more pertinent and juicy bits, in a raw sort of transcription.


REP. CHARLES MELANCON [Democrat, Louisiana]
NOVEMBER 2, 2005

Hurricane Katrina Document Analysis:
The E-Mails of Michael Brown

Mr. Brown’s E-Mails

The e-mails from Mr. Brown paint a different picture of Mr. Brown than Mr. Brown conveyed during the hearing. They reveal that Mr. Brown made few decisions and seemed out of touch. A
number of the e-mails address nonessential matters such as what Mr. Brown should wear, how he could defend his reputation, and even who would care for his dog. Other e-mails are devoted to banter with Mr. Brown’s staff. There are few e-mails that show Mr. Brown taking charge or
issuing tasking orders.

1. Failure to Make Decisions

There are almost no e-mails from Mr. Brown in which he makes decisions and communicates them to his subordinates. In the e-mails, Mr. Brown receives incoming messages about specific
problems, but rarely reacts.

On Wednesday, August 31, 2005, at 12:20 p.m., Marty Bahamonde, one of the only FEMA employees on the ground in New Orleans, sent a desperate message to Mr. Brown:

Sir, I know that you know the situation is past critical. Here are some things you might not know.

Hotels are kicking people out, thousands gathering in the streets with no food or water.

Hundreds still being rescued from homes.

The dying patients at the DMAT tent being medivac. Estimates are many will die within hours. Evacuation in process. Plans developing for dome evacuation but hotel situation adding to problem. We are out of food and running out of water at the dome, plans in works to address the critical need.

FEMA staff is OK and holding own. DMAT staff working in deplorable conditions. The sooner we can get the medical patients out, the sooner wecan get them out. Phone connectivity impossible.5

Mr. Brown responded to Mr. Bahamonde at 12:24 p.m. This is Mr. Brown’s full response:

Thanks for the update. Anything specific I need to do or tweak? 6

This indecisive response is not uncommon. Two days later, on Friday, September 2, 2005, Mr. Brown received a message with the subject

Medical help.

At the time, thousands of patients were being transported to the New Orleans airport, which had been converted to a makeshift hospital. 7

Because of a lack of ventilators, medical personnel had to ventilate patients by hand for as long as 35 hours. 8

The text of the e-mail read:

Mike, Mickey and other medical equipment people have a 42 ft trailer full of beds, wheelchairs, oxygen concentrators, etc. They are wanting to take them where they can be used but need direction. Mickey specializes in ventilator patients so can be very helpful with acute care patients. If you could have someone contact him and let him know if he can be of service, he would appreciate it. Know you are busy but they really want to help. 9

Mr. Brown, however, did not respond to this message until four days later, when he finally forwarded it to FEMA Deputy chief of staff Brooks Altshuler and Deputy Director of Response Michael Lowder. The text of Mr. Brown’s e-mail read: "Can we use these people?" 10

On other occasions, Mr. Brown did not appear to respond at all to reports of problems he received from FEMA staff. For example, on Thursday, September 1, FEMA officials were
exchanging reports of severe shortages of ice and water in Mississippi. The next day’s delivery was reported as 60 trucks of ice and 26 of water, even though the requirements were for 450 trucks of each. 11

Robert Fenton, a FEMA regional response official, wrote:

We have not yet met any of our requirements even with two days’ notice. If we get the quantities in your report tomorrow we will have serious riots. 12

William Carwile, FEMA’s coordinator in Mississippi, confirmed this assessment:

Will need big time law enforcement reinforcements tomorrow. All our good will here in MS will be very seriously impacted by noon tomorrow. Have been holding it together as it is.” 13

FEMA Deputy Director of Response Michael Lowder forwarded this chain of messages to Mr. Brown. 14

Yet there is no response from Mr. Brown in the e-mails produced by the Department.

In the 1,000 pages of e-mails, there are few e-mails from Mr. Brown that task FEMA officials to perform specific tasks or respond to pressing problems. One exception occurred on September 8, over a week after the hurricane. After receiving a message from a member of the public complaining about FEMA’s policy of not allowing evacuees to bring pets with them,15 Mr. Brown sent an immediate message to his staff:

I want us to start planning for dealing with pets. If evacuees are refusing to leave because they can’t take their pets with them, I understand that. So, we need to facilitate the evacuation of those people by figuring out a way to allow them to take their pets. Bill and Ron, this may not be an issue for you in AL and MS, but it is a huge issue in LA. Please get some sort of plan together to start handling the pets. Thanks. MB 16

2. Misinformation about the Levee Break

A key question that has emerged is when federal officials learned that the levees in New Orleans actually breached and began flooding the city. In statements by senior Administration officials in the days after Hurricane Katrina, President Bush,17 Secretary Chertoff,18 and Chairman of the
Joint Chiefs of Staff Richard Meyers 19 stated that the 17th Street and London Canal levees, which flooded much of northern New Orleans, did not breach until Tuesday, August 30. In fact, the levees actually broke on Monday, August 29. 20 The delay by federal officials in understanding when the levees broke has been criticized as a major failing in the federal response.

The e-mails reveal that Mr. Brown was apprised early on Monday of the levee failure and the dire consequences for New Orleans. For example, Mr. Brown received the following stream of e-mails on Monday, August 29:

At 9:39 a.m., Mr. Brown received a message stating: "Report that the levee in Arabi has failed next to the industrial canal." 21


At 10:20 a.m., Mr. Brown received a message stating:

From Marty Bahamonde in the New Orleans EOC (next to the superdome)

- Severe flooding on the St. Bernard/Orleans parish line. Police report water level up to second floor of two story houses. People are trapped in attics.

- Pumps starting to fail. The city has now confirmed four pumps are off line.

- Windows and parts of the east side of the Amaco building blown out.

- New Orleans shopping center (next to superdome) destroyed.

- Windows and parts of the East side of the Hyatt Hotel have been blown out. Furniture is blowing out of the hotel.

- Top floors of the Entergy building have been blown out

- Area around the Superdome is beginning to flood.

We should have pictures shortly. 23

At 11:57 a.m., Mr. Brown received a message stating: "New Orleans FD is reporting a 20 foot wide breach on the lake ponchatrian levy. The area is lakeshore Blvd and 17th street." 24

The e-mails indicate that Mr. Brown responded to only one of these messages. At 12:09 p.m., Mr. Brown responded to the 11:57 a.m. report of the “20 foot wide breach on the lake
ponchatrain levy” by dismissing the report. He wrote: "I’m being told here water over not a breach." 25

The e-mails do not indicate who told Mr. Brown this misinformation. There is also no indication in the e-mails that Mr. Brown recognized the seriousness of his mistake or took actions to correct it. There are no further e-mails from Mr. Brown that day about the levees.

3. E-Mails about Appearance, Reputation, and Dog-Sitting

Hurricane Katrina was one of the worst natural disasters to strike the United States. Mr. Brown emphasized the scope of the disaster in his testimony, saying that Katrina was far worse than any other disaster FEMA had handled during his tenure. He said, “the geographical size of it, the urban area nature of it, the extent of the devastation, the total destruction of the infrastructure. I mean, those are big, big items.” 26

Yet in the midst of the overwhelming damage caused by the hurricane and enormous problems faced by FEMA, Mr. Brown found time to exchange e-mails about superfluous topics such as his appearance, his reputation, and problems finding a dog-sitter.

On Friday, August 26, Mr. Brown e-mailed his press secretary, Sharon Worthy, about his attire, writing: “Tie or not for tonight? Button down blue shirt?”27 On Monday, August 29, between 7:00 and 9:00 a.m. on the day the hurricane struck, Mr. Brown exchanged additional e-mails about his attire with Cindy Taylor, FEMA deputy director of public affairs. Ms. Taylor wrote Mr. Brown: “I know its early, but … My eyes must certainly be deceiving me. You look fabulous — and I’m not talking the makeup!” 28

Mr. Brown’s reply was: “I got it at Nordstroms. … Are you proud of me?” 29

An hour later, Mr. Brown added: “If you’ll look at my lovely
FEMA attire you’ll really vomit. I am a fashion god.” 30

Several days later, Mr. Brown received yet another e-mail about his attire. This time, Ms. Worthy instructed Mr. Brown: “Please roll up the sleeves of your shirt … all shirts. Even the President rolled his sleeves to just below the elbow. In this cris[is] and on TV you just need to look more hard-working … ROLL UP THE SLEEVES.” 31

Mr. Brown also found time to send multiple e-mails about his reputation. Alerted by a friend, Howard Pike, that the media was investigating his tenure at the International Arabian Horse Association, Mr. Brown asked Mr. Pike to direct the media to people who would defend him:

“Bazy and Sheila would be perfect. Can you make the connections?” 32

Mr. Brown then forwarded Mr. Pike’s message to Natalie Rule, a DHS press contact, and Lea Ann McBride, Vice President Cheney’s press secretary, saying: “Howard Pike is the former head of the Air Line Pilots Association and a good friend of mine. I’ll get on my laptop and get his contact info shortly.” 33 Mr. Brown also sent a message to Andrew Lester, an Oklahoma lawyer, asking him to call reporters about this issue. 34

There are even e-mails about finding a sitter for Mr. Brown’s dog, for whom Mr. Brown’s wife was apparently having difficulties locating care. On Tuesday, August 30, the day after the hurricane struck, Mr. Brown sent this e-mail to his assistant, Tillie James: “Do you know of anyone who dog-sits? Bethany has backed out and Tamara is looking. If you know of any responsible kids, let me know. They can have the house to themselves Th-Su.”35

Some of these e-mails from Mr. Brown convey the impression that he may have been overwhelmed by his responsibilities. In his e-mail to Ms. Taylor on the morning the hurricane
struck, Mr. Brown wrote, “Can I quit now? Can I come home?” 36

A few days later, Mr. Brown wrote to an acquaintance, “I’m trapped now, please rescue me.” 37

The Need for Additional Documents

The e-mails received from Mr. Brown’s office reveal valuable insights into what went wrong during the critical days following Hurricane Katrina. They also highlight the need to receive a complete set of e-mails from Mr. Brown and similar documents from other key officials. To date, however, Administration officials have failed to respond to the document requests from Rep. Melancon and Rep. Davis.

1. Gaps in the Brown E-Mails

On September 30, Rep. Melancon and Rep. Davis sent a letter to Secretary Chertoff asking for “documents or communications, including internal communications, received, prepared, or sent by officials in … the Office of the Under Secretary of Emergency Preparedness and Response,” which is the office held by Mr. Brown. 38

The letter requested that these documents be provided by October 14, 2005.

Although the Department has provided many e-mails from Mr. Brown, it does not appear that all of Mr. Brown’s e-mails have been produced by the Department. In his congressional testimony, Mr. Brown referenced e-mails that he sent to the White House. Mr. Brown stated: “I exchanged e-mails and phone calls with Joe Hagin, Andy Card and the President.”39

However, no e-mail messages between Mr. Brown and Joe Hagin, who is White House deputy chief of staff, or Andrew Card, who is White House chief of staff, have been provided by the
Department. There have also been no e-mails produced between Mr. Brown and President Bush or other senior White House officials. Moreover, it does not appear that any e-mails between Mr. Brown and Secretary Chertoff have been produced. These are significant gaps in the Department’s compliance with the congressional document request.


The e-mails of former FEMA Director Michael Brown provide telling insights into the federal response to Hurricane Katrina. They depict a leader who seemed overwhelmed and rarely made key decisions. Many of the e-mails address superficial subjects — such as Mr. Brown’s appearance or reputation — rather than the pressing response needs of Louisiana and Mississippi. Few of the e-mails show Mr. Brown taking command or directing the response.

The credibility and thoroughness of the congressional investigation into the response to Hurricane Katrina will hinge on access to key documents and communications. To date, there are significant gaps in the e-mails involving Mr. Brown that have been provided to Congress.

Other key officials — including Secretary Chertoff, Secretary Rumsfeld, Secretary Leavitt, and White House chief of staff Andrew Card — have not provided any of their communications.
The select committee will not be able to fulfill its objectives if these documents are not produced in a timely manner.


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