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Slate's Politics: FEMA's Dangling Man

MADELEINE BRAND, host:

This is DAY TO DAY. I'm Madeleine Brand.

In a few minutes, evacuees from Hurricane Katrina seek work at a jobs fair in Texas.

But first, the director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Director Michael Brown, is being removed from his role managing Hurricane Katrina relief efforts on the Gulf Coast. Many have criticized FEMA's handling of the emergency, citing delay and lack of organization. Also, new details have emerged about Brown's qualifications for the job. Some have accused him of overstating those qualifications. For analysis and opinion on this controversy, we turn now to John Dickerson. He's Slate's chief political correspondent, Slate being the online magazine.

And, John, what more can you tell us about Brown's removal from this post?

JOHN DICKERSON (Slate): Well, we're still waiting for official word from the administration, but we hear that he's being replaced by Coast Guard Vice Admiral Thad Allen, who was moved down on Monday to really--according to administration officials at the time, to really just right the ship of FEMA and to sort of take over anyway. So a lot of people basically believe that Brown hasn't really been in charge of things for a while. And so this is kind of an announcement sort of in name only. But he's being moved out, and I think, if not for management reasons or if they cleared up the management problems earlier in the week, I think the White House is reacting to a big problem with the public relations at the moment.

BRAND: And to be clear, he's not being fired as FEMA head.

DICKERSON: No, he's not, not for the moment, anyway.

BRAND: Now we mentioned the controversy over his resume. Tell us more about that.

DICKERSON: Well, this morning there have been several disclosures. Time magazine on its Web site had a story basically saying that the previous jobs he held on his resume seemed to have some holes in them. One of them, he claimed that--and this is on the FEMA Web site; he claimed that he served as an assistant city manager with emergency services oversight. Well, the reason that's important is it's the closest he's got to a background in emergency recovery and rescue. And Time found apparently, according to some people that they interviewed, that really the job he had was really closer to--and this was in Edmond, Oklahoma--was really closer to an intern. And there's also been a report in The New Republic that his law credentials are not what he's said they are.

BRAND: And so why was he appointed head of FEMA?

DICKERSON: Well, that's all still being worked out. He was the deputy to Joe Allbaugh, who had the job before him, and Allbaugh said, well, he worked there and he was sort of the natural person to step into the job. Others have said that it had more to do with the fact that he was Allbaugh's roommate in college.

BRAND: And shortly after the hurricane hit, President Bush praised Brown's work, saying he's doing `a heck of a job.' This is a president that is famous for his loyalty to the people in his administration.

DICKERSON: He is famous for his loyalty. He's also famous, some I've been talking to would say, for his misstatements. And some people are trying to make the case that he kind of misspoke when he said, `You're doing a great job, Brownie.' This is an effort to try and clean up from the fact that Brown has gotten so much criticism. Administration officials said basically when he said that, he meant just in the very narrow window of time, and it wasn't a blanket statement.

The president is, though, very loyal. There are lots of people that the press has declared kind of ready to be kicked out of their jobs, and the president has kept them. And so we're not sure where there will end up with Michael Brown, but he has been an extremely loyal president.

BRAND: And don't all administrations, to a certain degree, appoint people to these positions on the basis of--somewhat on the basis of their political connections?

DICKERSON: Absolutely. The previous administrations, of course, have done this, and they basically do an equation where they weigh a person's actual qualifications with their political qualifications. I think the argument here made by the president's critics will be that they changed the role of FEMA under the Bush administration and therefore put a more political person at the head of it than a previous administration would have. That remains to be argued out, but you're exactly right, all administrations have political appointees in these kinds of jobs.

BRAND: Opinion and analysis from John Dickerson. He's the chief political correspondent for the online magazine Slate.

Thanks a lot, John.

DICKERSON: Thank you.

BRAND: More coming up on DAY TO DAY from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Madeleine Brand
Madeleine Brand is the host of NPR’s newest and fastest-growing daily show, Day to Day. She conducts interviews with newsmakers (Iraqi politicians, US senators), entertainment figures (Bernardo Bertolluci, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Ricky Gervais), and the everyday people affected by the news (an autoworker laid off at GM, a mother whose son was killed in Iraq).
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