WASHINGTON -- Michael D. Brown, left, the former federal emergency management chief who became a ridiculed symbol of the Bush administration's flawed response to Hurricane Katrina, returned in anger to Capitol Hill on Friday and lashed back at his former superiors.
Mr. Brown said that he told a senior White House official early on of the New Orleans flooding, and that the administration was too focused on terrorism to respond properly to natural disasters.
Testifying before a Senate committee, Mr. Brown said he notified a senior White House official -- who he said was probably Joe Hagin, the deputy White House chief of staff, but might have been Andrew H. Card Jr., the chief of staff -- on the day the hurricane hit to report that it had turned into his "worst nightmare" and that New Orleans was flooding.
It was the first public identification of any White House official who was said to have directly received reports of extensive flooding on Monday, Aug. 29, the day Hurricane Katrina hit.
In the aftermath of the storm, administration officials said they were caught by surprise when they were told of the levee breach on Tuesday, Aug. 30. Mr. Hagin was the senior staff member with President Bush on the day the hurricane hit, when Mr. Bush was traveling in California.
Mr. Brown's politically charged appearance before the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs quickly divided the panel's members by party.
Several Republican senators peppered him with hostile questions and suggested he was trying to deflect the blame from his own failures.
In contrast, Mr. Brown drew a gentle, even warm response from Democrats who said he had unfairly been made a scapegoat by the administration, though last year it was frequently Mr. Brown himself who drew the most fire from Democrats in Washington.
In contrast to low-key statements in the past, Mr. Brown, who resigned under pressure on Sept. 12 as director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, was aggressively on the defensive, saying he was "sick and tired" of his remarks or e-mail messages being taken out of context or hearing that he lacked the leadership skills for his job.
Mr. Brown said it was "baloney" for Department of Homeland Security officials to claim they did not know of the extent of the flooding until Tuesday, because he and other FEMA officials had notified them the day before.
In response to questioning, Mr. Brown also said he believed he told the White House on Monday that a breach had occurred in the 17th Street Canal levee, passing on observations made by one of his staff members on the ground in New Orleans that day.
"Everything that we had planned about, worried about, that FEMA, frankly, had worried about for 10 years was coming true," Mr. Brown said he told the White House aide.
Scott McClellan, the White House press secretary, said Friday morning while the hearing was under way that the administration already knew the city was being flooded. Regardless of the call from Mr. Brown, there were conflicting reports about whether a levee had been breached, Mr. McClellan said.
"The top priority at that time was on saving lives; it was on search and rescue operations," Mr. McClellan said.
Mr. Brown said that he could not recall if he personally called the homeland security secretary, Michael Chertoff, to relay the account of the levee breach. Even if he had, Mr. Brown said, it would have been a waste of time because FEMA's role within the Homeland Security Department had been subordinated to fighting terror. As a result of that, he said, he was unable to quickly get the kind of action he needed, unless he called the White House staff.
The Bush administration, as a whole, he said, did not seem to care enough about natural disasters and had relegated natural disasters to a "stepchild" of national security.
"It is my belief," Mr. Brown told the senators, that if "we've confirmed that a terrorist has blown up the 17th Street Canal levee, then everybody would have jumped all over that and been trying to do everything they could."
D.H.: Yeah, Brownie, as our president once said, as reported by the Chicago Tribune Sept. 7, 2005, and many other sources, "you're doing a heckuva job."