Former FEMA head Michael Brown writes 4,100-word op-ed on why he isn't responsible for Hurricane Katrina

Hurricane Katrina making landfall in 2005
(Image credit: Getty Images News)

If you've forgotten who Michael "Brownie" Brown is in the decade since Hurricane Katrina ravaged New Orleans, perhaps this descriptor from The Washington Post, written on September 6, 2005, will jog your memory: "Michael Brown has been called the accidental director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, caricatured as the failed head of an Arabian horse sporting group who was plucked from obscurity to become President Bush's point man for the worst natural disaster in U.S. history." What's more, Bush famously told Brown, "Brownie, you're doing a heck of a job," in the midst of the federal government's botched handling of a hurricane that put 80 percent of New Orleans under water, cost $81 billion in property damages, and took 1,833 lives.

But, 10 years on, Brown is tired of your scorn. The former FEMA head explained in Politico Magazine (in a piece appropriately titled, "Stop Blaming Me for Hurricane Katrina") that the blame really lies with his higher-ups, the failed local government who made it impossible for him to do his job, the Constitution, and the media:

I’m often asked, as the person who was running FEMA when Hurricane Katrina hit, why I didn’t evacuate New Orleans. My response is simple — FEMA had no authority to do that under the Constitution, which clearly establishes a system of federalism in which state and local governments are autonomous governmental entities. We call first responders “first” for a reason. When you dial 9-1-1 your call isn’t answered by an operator at 500 C Street SW, Washington, D.C., 20472. Your call is answered by a local government entity that has first and primary responsibility for a disaster. [Politico]

"Every CEO, manager, business owner and politician, needs to learn from my experience," Brown pleads, but even the just-curious can read the rest of his side of the story in Politico.

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Jeva Lange

Jeva Lange was the executive editor at She formerly served as The Week's deputy editor and culture critic. She is also a contributor to Screen Slate, and her writing has appeared in The New York Daily News, The Awl, Vice, and Gothamist, among other publications. Jeva lives in New York City. Follow her on Twitter.