Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the email correspondence of Mike "You're doing a heck of a job, Brownie!" Brown.
Even as subordinates warned him that the flooding of New Orleans was a matter of life or death, Michael Brown, the now-dismissed head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, remained strangely detached from the crisis, e-mails show.
He mused about his future, joked about a new shirt and wondered how he looked on TV.
On Aug. 31, two days after the storm flooded the city, a FEMA regional director sent Brown an urgent e-mail about patients dying "within hours," a lack of food and water, hundreds of rescues and a situation "past critical."
Brown's response? "Thanks for update. Anything specific I need to do or tweak?"
The e-mails were released Wednesday as part of the ongoing congressional investigation into the federal response to Hurricane Katrina. Members of Congress said the e-mails show that Brown was not focused on the rescue and relief efforts he was supposedly leading.
The e-mails "reveal that Mr. Brown made few decisions and seemed out of touch," said Rep. Charlie Melancon, a Louisiana Democrat who pushed for the e-mails' release. "They depict a leader who seemed overwhelmed."
The e-mails indicate that Brown had intended to leave the FEMA job before Katrina hit. In one dated Sept. 2 he tells a colleague of his plans: "Last hurrah was supposed to have been Labor Day. I'm trapped now, please rescue me."
Here is verbatim text of some of the e-mails released Wednesday:
"My eyes must certainly be deceiving me. You look fabulous - and I'm not talking the makeup!" - Cindy Taylor, FEMA deputy director of public affairs, to Brown, commenting on Brown's TV appearance on the morning of Aug. 29, when Katrina hit.
Brown's response: "I got it at Nordstrom's. Email (FEMA spokeswoman Lee Anne) McBride and make sure she knows! Are you proud of me? Can I quit now? Can I go home?"
On the home front and on a more serious topic, the City of Houston is working to get the remaining evacuees who are still in hotels into more permanent housing.
To meet the Federal Emergency Management Agency's deadline, the Joint Hurricane Housing Task Force will be sending teams throughout the area to stress to these evacuees that now is the time to move into apartments and other housing.
The city is offering evacuees a housing voucher good for one year of free rent, gas and electricity during the "Hotel Customer Service" campaign. The effort so far has helped lower the number remaining in hotels from 60,000 at the height of the Katrina and Rita evacuations. About 50,000 evacuees have moved into 12,000 apartments with the help of vouchers, Mayor Bill White said Thursday during a press conference outside City Hall.
Another 4,500 units remain eligible for the voucher program, and 7,000 could be made available if FEMA provides additional funding, White said.
"The competition for the remaining apartment units is picking up," added task-force coordinator E.A. "Buddy" Grantham. "Now is the time to act in order to get into the apartment complexes that accept these vouchers."
Both local and state officials, including White and Gov. Rick Perry, publicly complained to lawmakers in Washington this week about the federal hurricane response. White has said the pace of federal reimbursement to the city for taking care of Katrina evacuees has slowed.
But on Thursday, White said the mobile action teams are rolling out the program "with great cooperation from our brothers and sisters at FEMA."
White said the city proceeded with its housing program and forming the Joint Hurricane Housing Task Force because it relied on the direction from FEMA and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
"The biggest concern that we have is that it not be business as usual," White said. Otherwise, he said, "the wheels will fall off, but that's not the kind of attitude we expect from FEMA.
"We just want to make sure that momentum is not lost," he added.