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APN Interviews US Rep Thompson on FEMA, Katrina Accountability

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(APN) ATLANTA -- "The only person who's lost their job to this point is Michael Brown and this whole debacle includes more people than Michael Brown," US Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-MI) told Atlanta Progressive News in a phone interview.

"Michael Brown was not qualified," to be the Director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), Rep. Thompson said. "He [Brown] was a political crony put in the position because of his support of George Bush and his relationship with the former director of FEMA."

Congressman Thompson sat down for a phone interview with Atlanta Progressive News to discuss the PREPARE Act, the legislation he is sponsoring to address some of the major problems with FEMA. Thompson also discussed his committee's recent review of FEMA, and his thoughts on the federal response to Katrina.

The Plan to Restore Excellence and Professional Accountability in Responding to Emergencies (PREPARE) Act has three main recommendations. First, it requires that the Director of FEMA have "demonstrated ability or extensive background in emergency or disaster-related management." It also creates a deputy director who must have a disaster management background and must be a career Federal employee.

Second, it requires that the head of FEMA report directly to the President during "all incidents of national significance."

Third, it requires that "FEMA must operate in accord with the emergency management 'cycle' system - requiring the re-unification of preparedness, response, recovery, and mitigation efforts," according to a press statement released to Atlanta Progressive News.

Currently the original cosponsors are Representatives Thompson, Pascrell, Langevin, Etheridge, Meek, DeFazio, Al Green, Christensen, Markey, and Jackson-Lee.

Congressman Thompson is the Ranking Democrat on the US House Committee on Homeland Security, which oversees FEMA in partnership with the US House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure.

Coming from the state of Mississippi, he has a personal as well as political interest in addressing what he calls the Katrina debacle. Thompson is also notably the only non-senior Democratic Congressman who is the ranking member on a US House Committee; all other committees are headed by senior Democrats. Thompson's committee was only created in recent years to oversee the newly created Department of Homeland Security (DHS).

"You can talk about leadership in the Department of Homeland Security and you can talk about it in FEMA directly. Basically you had a person who had been running the Arabian Horse Association (AHA) running an organization that is to supposed to respond to, whether it's a terrorist threat or a natural disaster, and in both cases he's demonstrated he can't handle it," Thompson said.

Indeed, Mr. Brown not only worked on horse issues before coming to FEMA; he created scandals and ruckus with the AHA and was later fired, an article in The Arizona Republic illuminates on his equestrian past.

"The recent Katrina Commission cited, his lapses in the performance of his job should not have been. A lot of us continue to wonder why the President does not... provide his leadership on this issue. He [Bush] is still defending what happened, he's still defending the people," Thompson said.

"While Republicans are in charge of the White House, the Senate, and the House... they have placed their individuals in all of the positions of responsibility to emergency preparedness, disaster preparedness, and terrorism preparedness. So you have to put the blame squarely on the shoulder of the Republicans in the Congress and Georgia Bush who is President," Thompson said.

"And I don't accept this notion that Katrina was like nothing we've ever had before. What does that mean? Does that mean we can be unprepared, and that's an excuse for what happened? If we can respond to the tsunami [recently in Asia], surely we could have responded better to the victims of Katrina," Thompson said.

Atlanta Progressive News asked how can we prevent this in the future.

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Matthew Cardinale is Editor of Atlanta Progressive News. He has written previously for the Sun-Sentinel Newspaper, Shelterforce Magazine, The Advocate Magazine, The San Francisco Bay View, and the Berkeley Daily Planet Newspaper. He has also (more...)
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