Michael D. Brown

Michael D. Brown
Michael Brown, February 4, 2003

Michael DeWayne Brown (born November 8, 1954) was the first Undersecretary of Emergency Preparedness and Response (EP&R), a division of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). This position is generally referred to as the director or administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). He was appointed in January 2003 by President George W. Bush and resigned in September 2005. Brown first had been appointed as General Counsel at FEMA. After the 9/11 terrorist attacks President Bush nominated Brown to become Deputy Director of FEMA. Brown currently hosts a radio talk show on NewsRadio 850 KOA in Denver, Colorado.[1]


Early life

Brown was born in Guymon, Oklahoma, on November 8, 1954. He received a B.A. in public administration/political science from the Central State University (now the University of Central Oklahoma)[citation needed]. He was named the Outstanding Political Science Senior[citation needed]. He received his J.D. from Oklahoma City University School of Law in 1981.[citation needed]

While he was in college, from 1975 to 1978, he handled "labor and budget matters"[2] as an assistant to the city manager of Edmond, Oklahoma (1980 population of 58,123). His White House biography states that he had emergency services oversight in this position. However, the head of public relations for the city denied that Brown had oversight over anybody and explained that "the assistant is more like an intern."[3] Claudia Deakins, the spokesperson for the City of Edmond, submitted information to the House Committee investigating Hurricane Katrina showing that Time Magazine had taken her quotes out of context. Time Magazine erroneously reported Brown's position at the City of Edmond and the former Mayor of Edmond, Carl Reherman, and the former City Attorney, Mary Ann Karns, each submitted affidavits[4] to the House investigating committee showing that Brown had, indeed, emergency management experience.

While attending law school, Brown was appointed by the Chairman of the Senate Finance Committee of the Oklahoma Legislature as the Finance Committee Staff Director, where he oversaw state fiscal issues from 1980-1982. In 1981, he was elected to the city council for Edmond, but resigned to work in private practice.[2]

Law career

Later in the 1980s he lived in Enid and practiced law there. Stephen Jones, the senior partner and founder of the firm, wrote reviews of Brown that he was "an asset to the firm" and described Brown's work as "excellent," "first rate," and "outstanding." During the Hurricane Katrina controversy Jones then described him as "not serious and somewhat shallow."[3] Of 37 lawyers with Jones' firm, Brown went into solo practice when Jones and his partners decided to split up the firm.

He also taught at Oklahoma City University law school as an adjunct. From 1982-1988, he was the Chairman of the Board of the Oklahoma Municipal Power Authority.

He ran for Congress in 1988 against Democratic incumbent Glenn English, who had not been challenged in the previous election. English's well-financed campaign soundly defeated Brown with 122,763 votes against 45,199. After losing, Brown promised to try again in 1990, saying, "I have an excellent chance of prevailing. It's a Democratic state, but a very Republican district."[5] However, Brown did not run in 1990, and English beat his Republican opponent, Robert Burns, 110,100 votes to 27,540.

Personal life

Brown and his wife, Tamarra, have two children. After leaving federal service they returned to Boulder, Colorado where they reside.

IAHA tenure

Before joining the DHS/FEMA, Brown was the Judges and Stewards Commissioner for the International Arabian Horse Association, (IAHA), from 1989-2001. After numerous lawsuits were filed against the organization over disciplinary actions that Brown took against members violating the Association's code of ethics,[6] Brown resigned and negotiated a buy-out of his contract.

A March 2000 two-part report in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, chronicling one of the disciplinary actions, lauded Brown for pursuing an investigation against David Boggs, "the kingpin of the Arabian horse world", despite internal pressure to end the inquiry.[7] The Brown-led investigation found Boggs performed medically unnecessary surgery on horses to enhance their visual appeal. An ethics board suspended Boggs for five years. Boggs protested through multiple lawsuits against both the organization and Brown, alleging slander and defamation. Brown and the IAHA prevailed in each of the lawsuits brought by Boggs but the lawsuits nonetheless took a financial toll. Some members interviewed felt Brown showed an imperious attitude, and nicknamed him "The Czar."[8]

Brown started his own legal defense fund before resigning, a move he said was necessary to protect his family's assets.[9] However, some IAHA insiders claimed that this was what really led to his ouster. He raised money from breeders for the fund as well as IAHA, creating what some called a conflict of interest. Despite his contract stipulating that IAHA was to pay all his personal legal expenses, on top of his $100,000 annual salary, the Association refused initially to pay the legal bills, and Brown created the legal defense fund on the advice of IAHA's own legal counsel.

Bush administration service

After Bush entered office in January 2001, Brown joined FEMA as General Counsel. He was the first person hired by his long-time friend, then-FEMA director Joe Allbaugh,[10] who also ran Bush's election campaign in 2000. Allbaugh later named Brown his acting deputy director in September 2001. Bush formally nominated him as deputy director on March 22, 2002, and the Senate confirmed him many months later after the recovery efforts in New York had subsided. Brown oversaw the recovery efforts for New York and surrounding states with the White House Office of Domestic Policy's Reuben Jeffery III who later became chairman of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission. After Bush announced the creation of the Department of Homeland Security Allbaugh left government and Bush nominated Brown again in January 2003 for the directorship. Brown was sworn in to his position on April 15, 2003. Prior to his nomination as Under Secretary the White House appointed Brown to head a transition team creating the Emergency Preparedness & Response Directorate within DHS.

Before that, shortly after the September 11 attacks, Brown served on the Consequence Management Principals' Committee, which acted as the White House's policy coordination group for the federal domestic response to the attacks. Later, Bush asked him to head the Consequence Management Working Group to identify and resolve key issues regarding the federal response plan. In August 2002, Bush appointed him to the Transition Planning Office for the new Department of Homeland Security, serving as the transition leader for the EP&R Division. As undersecretary, Brown also directed the National Incident Management System (NIMS) Integration Center, the National Disaster Medical System and the Nuclear Incident Response Team.

On August 31, 2005, following Hurricane Katrina being named an "Incident of National Significance", Brown was named the Principal Federal Official and placed in charge of the federal government's response by Homeland Security Director Michael Chertoff. On September 7, 2005, then Coast Guard Chief of Staff Vice Admiral Thad Allen was named Brown's deputy and given operational control of search and rescue and recovery efforts.[11]

On September 9, 2005, Chertoff relieved Brown of all on-site relief duties along the Gulf Coast, officially replacing him with then Vice Admiral Allen. Brown remained Under Secretary of Emergency Preparedness and Response. Brown told the Associated Press that "the press" was making him a scapegoat for the slow federal response to the hurricane.[12]

On September 12, 2005, Brown announced his resignation as director of FEMA. He commented that the negative publicity surrounding him was distracting attention from the relief effort.

Chertoff granted Brown two 30-day contract extensions in order not to "sacrifice the real ability to get a full picture of Mike's experiences." Brown continued to receive his $148,000 annual salary until November 2, 2005, when he left in the middle of the second 30-day extension.

Resignation from FEMA

On September 12, 2005, in the wake of what was widely believed to be incompetent handling of the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina by state, local and federal officials, Brown resigned, saying that it was "in the best interest of the agency and best interest of the president."[13] His standing had also been damaged when the Boston Herald revealed his meager experience in disaster management before joining FEMA. Shortly after his resignation the Associated Press obtained a videotape of Brown briefing Bush, Governor Blanco, Mayor Nagin and others in which he questioned the wisdom of the Mayor's use of the Louisiana Superdome as a "shelter of last resort" and questions the structural integrity of the Superdome during the briefing.[14]

By the time he resigned from FEMA, Brown had already been discharged from his functions as coordinator of the federal efforts in New Orleans and Gulf Coast by Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff and was sent back to Washington to continue FEMA's central operations. Bush, who had appointed Brown in 2003, praised Brown shortly after the storm hit, saying "Brownie, you're doing a heck of a job,"[15] but later deflected questions about the resignation, except to deny having discussed the resignation with him.

At least one reliable source, The Economist, recognized the likelihood that Brown was "pushed" out by the administration rather than having resigned voluntarily, although internal e-mails from Brown indicated that he was already planning to leave FEMA at the time Katrina hit.[16] The same suggestion was made by at least one member of Congress during a hearing on what went wrong during Katrina. Brown concentrated his testimony at that hearing on alleging that Louisiana governor Kathleen Blanco and New Orleans mayor Ray Nagin bore most, if not all, of the blame for the failures in the response to Katrina, and that his only fault had been not to realize sooner their inability to perform their respective duties.

After his September 12 resignation, Brown continued working for FEMA as a contractor to help the agency assess what went wrong in the response to the hurricane.

On November 2, 2005, Brown ended his contract early (it had been extended to mid-November by Chertoff) and left the federal government.

On January 18, 2006, Brown stated that certainly things could have been handled differently, such as calling in the military. As one of the largest natural disasters to ever strike the US, he stated, "It was beyond the capacity of the state and local governments, and it was beyond the capacity of FEMA."[17] On February 10, 2006, Brown again testified before Congress, this time placing blame on the Department of Homeland Security for the poor handling of the disaster, asserting that the anti-terrorism focus of the Department had caused it to deny resources needed to FEMA. In his February 2006 testimony, Brown also contradicted earlier claims that the White House was unaware of levees having been breached, stating: "For them to claim that we didn’t have awareness of it is just baloney."[18]

On March 1, 2006, AP released a recording of Brown and Bush in a video conference in which the vulnerability of the levee system was raised with a great deal of concern over potential loss of life[citation needed]. Bush denied any awareness of the possibility of a levee-related catastrophe in a live interview.[19]

Post-FEMA activities

Work for InferX Company

Brown began as an adviser[when?] to a publicly traded company, InferX[20] which claims its technology is the answer to the U.S.A's security concerns, as well as the credibility problems of the DHS and FEMA. Brown has been on the media circuit talking about technology that claims to screen for terror suspects, track threats in shipping containers and cargo hauling, and gather data for law enforcement tracking. In December 2007, Brown was named CEO of InferX and then appointed to the board of directors in April 2008. As of May 9, 2008 Brown and others left the company pending sale of InferX to another investor.

Work for Cotton Companies

As of 2007, Brown worked for Cotton Companies, a private firm specializing in recovery. Throughout 2007 and early 2008 Brown made appearances to the press on behalf of Cotton companies. In these appearances, he referred to the lessons that he had learned from his experiences as the head of FEMA during Hurricane Katrina.[21]

Next of Kin Registry NOKR

July, 2009, Michael Brown became the CEO of the Next of Kin Registry an NGO in Washington DC. NOKR is the central depository for Emergency Contact information in the United States plus 87 other countries.The NGO is all volunteer driven.[22]

Work for Cold Creek Solutions

On August 28, 2009, it was announced via press release emails[23][24][dubious ] "Former FEMA Director Michael Brown Joins Cold Creek Solutions, Offers Consulting Practice for Disaster Recovery" and also subsequently reported[25][26] that Brown had joined Cold Creek Solutions as VP, Disaster Recovery Practice.[27]

Radio talk show host

Brown filled in at various times on Denver radio station KOA after leaving government service. In February 2010 he was named the host of the Michael Brown Show from 7-10 pm weeknights on KOA, when not preempted by sports. Brown has embraced the criticism received during his handling of FEMA and has indicated that this gives him insight into when government fails.[28] Politically on the program Brown is conservative, expressing a strong libertarian tilt.[29]


Brown co-authored a book, Deadly Indifference: The Perfect (Political) Storm: Hurricane Katrina, The Bush White House, and Beyond, about his experiences during Hurricane Katrina. The book was released June 16, 2011 and is published by Taylor Trade Publishing. Brown criticizes the performance of numerous people, including Bush, Trent Lott, Dennis Hastert, Ray Nagin, and Jesse Jackson, and critiques his own performance by stating that he failed to be ready for the press and was too timid in his response.[30]

FEMA controversies and criticism

Hurricane Frances

In 2004, FEMA disbursed $30 million in disaster relief funds for Hurricane Frances to residents of Miami, Florida, a city which was not affected by the hurricane. Brown admitted to $12 million in overpayments, but denied any serious mistakes, blaming a computer glitch. After investigating, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel wrote that Brown was responsible and called for him to be fired.[31]

In January 2005, U.S. Rep. Robert Wexler (D-FL) publicly urged Bush to fire Brown, citing the Sun-Sentinel 's report.[32] Wexler repeated his call in April to Chertoff, citing new reports that FEMA sent inspectors with criminal records of robbery and embezzlement to do damage assessments.[33]

Hurricane Katrina

In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, many Democratic politicians called for Brown to be fired immediately, including California Rep. Nancy Pelosi, Maryland Senator Barbara Mikulski, New York Senators Hillary Rodham Clinton and Chuck Schumer, Colorado Senator Ken Salazar, Michigan Rep. Carolyn Cheeks Kilpatrick and Senator Debbie Stabenow, Louisiana State Rep. Peter Sullivan, Nevada Senator Harry Reid, and Illinois Senator Dick Durbin.

Post-Katrina, many New Orleanians added graffiti to their trashed appliances set on curbs to be hauled away. Here a refrigerator inscription satirizes Bush's "Heck of a job" praise for Brown.

Republican politicians such as Senator Trent Lott have also criticized Brown's leadership of FEMA. Brown's performance was defended, however, by Republicans such as former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, Florida Governor Jeb Bush and former Presidential speechwriter Pat Buchanan. At the Mobile (Alabama) Regional Airport on September 2, 2005, President Bush publicly praised Brown's handling of the disaster, saying "Brownie, you're doing a heck of a job."[15] "Heck of a job" soon became sarcastic slang for things done by politically connected cronies or general incompetence.[34][35][36]

Brown also wanted to know whether there were enough federal medical teams in place to treat evacuees in the Superdome.[citation needed]

Bush appeared on the tape sitting at a table in a small room at his Crawford, Texas ranch. He did not ask any questions. He told state officials that the federal government was prepared to handle the storm and its aftermath. "I want to assure the folks at the state level that we are fully prepared to not only help you during the storm, but we will move in whatever resources and assets we have at our disposal after the storm", he said.[37]

On August 29, 2005, five hours after the hurricane hit land, Brown made his first request for Homeland Security rescue workers to be deployed to the disaster area only after two days of training.[38] He also told fire and rescue departments outside affected areas to refrain from providing trucks or emergency workers without a direct appeal from state or local governments in order to avoid coordination problems and the accusation of overstepping federal authority.

On September 1, 2005, Brown told Soledad O'Brien of CNN that he was unaware that New Orleans' officials had housed thousands of evacuees, who quickly ran out of food and water, in the Convention Center — even though major news outlets had been reporting on the evacuees' plight for at least a day. He also criticized those that were stuck in New Orleans as those "who chose not to evacuate, who chose not to leave the city" (disobeying a mandatory evacuation order).

On September 2, 2005, Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley stated that he pledged firefighters, police officers, health department workers, and other resources on behalf of the city, but was only asked to send one tank truck.[39]

Gail Collins, at the time editor of The New York Times' editorial page, called Michael Brown "legendary as a disaster in his own right",[40] and on Thanksgiving week in 2005, Brown was No. 1 on CNN's "Political Turkey of the Year" list for his handling of Katrina.

On August 28, 2007, Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards proposed what he called "Brownie's Law" requiring that "qualified people, not political hacks", lead key federal agencies.[41]


Michael Brown's email messages were requested by a congressional house committee in November 2005 to investigate the federal government's handling of the Katrina disaster. Controversy arose when the approximately 1,000 e-mail messages between Brown, staff and acquaintances were released. Several of Michael Brown's emails display an arguable lack of professionalism in his duties (per Charlie Melancon, the representative from this congressional district at the time):[42]

On the day Katrina struck, Brown wrote "Can I quit now? Can I go home?" He later quipped to a friend on September 2 that he could not meet her because he was "trapped [as FEMA head] ... please rescue me."; and at another time "If you'll look at my lovely FEMA attire, you'll really vomit. I am a fashion god."[citation needed] In another e-mail, Brown's press secretary, Sharon Worthy, advised him to roll up his sleeves "to look more hard-working... Even the president rolled his sleeves to just below the elbow."[43] An e-mail offering critical medical equipment went unanswered for four days.[43]

Deepwater Horizon oil spill

Michael Brown speaking about the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in May 2010 declared:

"This is exactly what they want, because now he can pander to the environmentalists and say, 'I'm gonna shut it down because it's too dangerous,'" ... "This president has never supported big oil, he's never supported offshore drilling, and now he has an excuse to shut it back down."[44]


  1. ^ The Michael Brown Show 850 KOA
  2. ^ a b "Enid Attorney Hopes to Unseat English", The Oklahoman, October 16, 1988
  3. ^ a b Daren Fonda; Rita Healy (2005-09-08). "How Reliable Is Brown's Résumé?". Time. http://www.time.com/time/nation/article/0,8599,1103003,00.html. Retrieved 2009-09-29. 
  4. ^ House.gov
  5. ^ "6th District Returns English to Congress," The Oklahoman, November 9, 1988
  6. ^ November 2000 newsletter from the NHAHA
  7. ^ Brown pushed from last job: Horse group: FEMA chief had to be 'asked to resign', Boston Herald, September 3, 2005
  8. ^ Head of FEMA has an unlikely background, Knight Ridder, September 4, 2005
  9. ^ What in the World, Arabian Horse World, November 2000
  10. ^ FEMA director Brown singled out by critics of federal response, The Washington Post, September 6, 2005
  11. ^ Coast Guard's Chief of Staff To Assist FEMA Head Brown, The Washington Post, September 7, 2005
  12. ^ FEMA Chief Relieved of Katrina Duties, Associated Press, September 9, 2005
  13. ^ Career firefighter, ranking FEMA official will replace Mike Brown msnbc, September 13, 2005
  14. ^ Youtube.com
  15. ^ a b "President Arrives in Alabama, Briefed on Hurricane Katrina". White House. September 2, 2005. http://georgewbush-whitehouse.archives.gov/news/releases/2005/09/20050902-2.html. Retrieved 2007-10-27. 
  16. ^ The pressure on George Bush after Katrina
  17. ^ Brown Now Says He Deserves Much of Blame, By TOM GARDNER, Associated Press Writer, Wednesday, January 18, 2006
  18. ^ Ex-FEMA chief says he's a scapegoat: ‘I feel somewhat abandoned’, msnbc, February 10, 2006
  19. ^ A Dearth of Answers, Washington Post, September 1, 2005
  20. ^ InferX site bio of Brown,
  21. ^ Cotton companies press releases
  22. ^ Next of Kin Registry "NOKR Volunteer Staff and Volunteer Advisors" site bios including Brown
  23. ^ Daily Kos: State of the Nation: Michael Brown Offers Consulting Practice for Disaster Recovery
  24. ^ The Furman Files: Michael Brown Consulting on Disaster Planning
  25. ^ Sun System News: Former FEMA Director Joins Cold Creek Solutions
  26. ^ Denver Business Journal:Ex-FEMA chief Brown joins Cold Creek Solutions
  27. ^ Cold Creek Solutions "Experience Matters" site bios including Brown
  28. ^ http://www.kdvr.com/news/kdvr-mike-brown-fema-koa-text-020310,0,4129980.story
  29. ^ http://blogs.westword.com/latestword/2010/01/michael_brownie_brown_on_his_n.php
  30. ^ http://www.usnews.com/news/blogs/washington-whispers/2011/06/13/michael-brown-evens-scores-even-if-he-doesnt-mean-to
  31. ^ FEMA's Disaster, South Florida Sun-Sentinel, September 8, 2005
  32. ^ Wexler Calls For FEMA Director's Resignation, January 24, 2005
  33. ^ Wexler Renews Call for FEMA Director's Removal, April 27, 2005
  34. ^ FEMA Director Singled Out by Response Critics Washington Post, September 6, 2005
  35. ^ Video from WhiteHouse.org
  36. ^ Heck of a Job, Wolfie Truthdig.com, April 17, 2007
  37. ^ USA Today Video shows Bush, Chertoff warned before Katrina
  38. ^ Memo from Michael Brown to Michael Chertoff, August 29, 2005
  39. ^ Daley 'shocked' at federal snub of offers to help, Chicago Tribune, September 2, 2005
  40. ^ Gail Collins (October 2, 2005). "A Letter From the Editor: It All Goes on the Permanent Record". The New York Times. http://www.nytimes.com/2005/10/02/opinion/02collins.html. Retrieved September 15, 2011. 
  41. ^ Edwards wants law against "Brownies", Reuters August 28, 2007
  42. ^ CNN.com
  43. ^ a b 'Can I quit now?' FEMA chief wrote as Katrina raged. CNN, November 3, 2005
  44. ^ HuffingtonPost.com

External links

Government offices
Preceded by
Joe Allbaugh (FEMA director)
Under Secretary of Emergency Preparedness and Response
Succeeded by
R. David Paulison

Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.

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