In the decade since Hurricane Katrina, the image of former President George W. Bush telling Michael Brown, then the administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, "Brownie, you're doing a heckuva job," has become a potent symbol—shorthand for what many viewed as the White House's mishandling of the natural disaster.
Brown left later that year and now hosts a radio show in Colorado. Ten years after that turning point, Brown talked with National Journal about why New Orleans suffered worse, that infamous phrase, and why questions about race with regard to Katrina are "utter bullshit." The interview has been condensed for clarity.
National Journal: You've said in the past you think the Bush administration didn't understand the magnitude [of Katrina]. ... Why didn't the administration do so and what would have been done different if the administration had taken it seriously?
Michael Brown: I think rather than using the word "seriously," to be more accurate I would say, the administration just assumed because of the incredible success that we had had in 2004 [when] we had four hurricanes strike Florida. It was right in the middle of a presidential election, so we had an amazing amount of political pressure... So I think you couple that experience just the year before along with everything I had done in all of the disasters all of the way back to 9/11, I think maybe there was this assumption that, "Hey, it's just a hurricane, there won't be any problem." And I think there was also kind of, "Brown's good at this stuff, so there's not a lot for us to worry about." I think it was that coupled with a failure to recognize that ... [the hurricane] was going to the one place that we wished it wouldn't go to, and that was the fishbowl called New Orleans.