Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Fire Brown and Chertoff...now

If the Bush Administration wishes to have any hope of salvaging its credibility, the President must fire not only FEMA head Michael Brown, but Secretary of Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff.

Brown is an incompetent political hack, plain and simple. A man whose previous gig was running a horse breeder's association was put in charge of a federal agency with life-and-death responsibilities. That's absurd, and it's almost criminally negligent. He's taken a bad situation and turned it into a soup sandwich. If state and local governments-indeed, the rest of the federal government-are to take FEMA seriously, Brown needs to be replaced with a new director with the experience and skills to execute his or her duties.

Chertoff has appeared to be more interested in political blame allocation than with untangling the bureaucratic spider web that has hindered relief efforts. In a time of crisis, leaders accept responsibility. Secretary Chertoff's attempts to hang the disaster around the neck of Ray Nagin and Kathleen Blanco are bad enough; when he and his White House allies distort facts, mislead the media and flat-out lie to do so, they lay bare an ethical gap that should disqualify them from positions of dire responsibility.

I also think that the New Orleans catastrophe raises frightening questions about DHS's ability to effectively perform its core mission. If Chertoff and his team are utterly useless in this context, then it is fair to ask how things would be different if the department were called to respond to a dirty bomb attack in Chicago or a nerve gas attack on Boston.

Chertoff and Brown were put to the test. They failed. They must go.

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