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September 12, 2005
No Great Surprise

To no one's great surprise, Michael Brown resigned as head of FEMA this afternoon. Brown, who got publicly rebuked by his recall to Washington last week, apparently knows how to take a hint:

The White House picked a top FEMA official with three decades of firefighting experience to be FEMA's new director, senior administration sources said Monday.

R. David Paulison, head of the Federal Emergency Management Agencys emergency preparedness force, will lead the beleaguered agency, according to three administration sources who spoke on condition of anonymity because the announcement had not yet been made.

Bush's decision followed FEMA Director Mike Brown's announcement that he was resigning in the best interest of the agency and best interest of the president, three days after losing his on-site command of the Hurricane Katrina relief effort.

No one seriously thought that Brown would continue as head of FEMA after the past two weeks. No matter what a later investigation determines as the cause of delays in getting aid to the people trapped in New Orleans, Brown didn't give any personal impression of urgency in the first few days of the storm. For that matter, neither did Blanco and Nagin, but they will eventually answer to the people of Louisiana for their performance. When the situation called for a Patton, he gave an impression of the bureaucrat that he is. That doesn't necessarily mean he did anything wrong -- we'll find out later -- but in disasters, the man in charge of the federal response needs to project confidence, urgency, competence, and action all at once. Brown didn't measure up to those expectations.

His resume padding, however, probably finished him. And one has to ask, no matter who appointed him, why this White House seems to have so much trouble vetting its DHS appointees. Bernard Kerik thoroughly embarrassed the Bush administration with his troubled background, which took the press about 24 hours to unravel. If Bush has Giuliani's recommendation as an excuse for Kerik, he has no such excuse for Brown. Someone needs to join Michael Brown on the unemployment line for blowing a standard background check.

The administration looks like it picked a better choice for Brown's replacement, and it begs the question as to why they didn't start with Paulison from the start. He has real-life experience in disaster recovery (or we presume so, assuming he doesn't have Brown's talent for creative writing), having worked on the ground during Hurricane Andrew in 1992 and the Valujet crash in 1996. That doesn't necessarily mean he will make a great administrator, but as the lead man in disaster response, he can hire people who do that. His main role will be to inspire confidence from the public and the responders ... a task that Brown could not accomplish once the situation spun out of control.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at September 12, 2005 9:03 PM

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