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On Eve of Katrina Anniversary, Former FEMA Chief Brown Blames Oversized Government

On the eve of the five year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, the Washington Post’s Ed O’Keefe snags an interview with former FEMA head Michael Brown, of “Brownie, you’re doing a heck of a job” fame. Despite Bush’s praise, Brown was out of a job soon after and now works as a radio talk show host in Colorado. Asked to respond to charges that the federal government didn’t do enough in the wake of the storm, Brown largely avoided talking about any particular failings, choosing instead to focus on the failings of concentrating power in Washington in the first place:

I think the most important point is that everything that I was saying to [former homeland security secretaries] Tom Ridge and Michael Chertoff prior to Katrina making landfall all came true. The people at FEMA who will now tell you that Washington had become too Washington-centric are absolutely true.

And later:

The lesson to be learned about this is first of all, every agency is going to make missteps. There are always going to be errors made. It’s the nature of the beast. . . .

Whatever your persuasion is, we have to recognize that this federal government of the United States is so large and cumbersome that we really can’t, and should not, expect it to be this kind of well-oiled, well-running machine. It’s not.

Blaming the idea of federal government for the failures of a particular administration or agency is a particularly nifty trick that only conservatives are able to play. Cases of individual negligence and failure are used to bolster a larger ideological stance that federal agencies are generally cumbersome and unhelpful as a rule.

President Obama, on the other hand, could no more blame a leaking oil well and a dysfunctional Minerals Management Service on the federal government being “cumbersome” than he could disavow his core beliefs as a liberal. He recognizes that it wasn’t the size of MMS, per say, but its cozy relationship with the industries it was supposed to regulate, that were to blame for allowing oil companies to evade regulations and safety measures. Admitting this involves accepting a degree of political heat, but it also involves coming up with a way to fix the problem in the future, rather than simply writing it off as an inevitable evil of Washington.

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