Early Show co-host Julie Chen interviewed CBS's resident homeland security expert, Randy Larsen, about FEMA director Mike Brown's resignation. Larsen offered perhaps the most balanced analysis of all the Hurricane Katrina coverage on CBS, noting that FEMA's scope and mission are not all-encompassing, and that local and state officials are supposed to remain in charge of disaster recovery, rescue, and cleanup efforts, with FEMA in a secondary role. This of course, cuts against the bias CBS News has had on hurricane relief. CBS has failed to ask New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin nor Louisiana Governor Kathleen Blanco on where they failed before and after the hurricane struck and what they are doing, if anything, to take responsibility.
Below is the transcript of the Larsen interview.
Julie Chen at 7:12 a.m EDT from Los Angeles: "As we've been reporting, Mike Brown, who took the brunt of criticism for FEMA's response to Hurricane Katrina resigned as the agency's director. The White House tapped longtime FEMA member David Paulison, a career firefighter as acting director. CBS News consultant Colonel Randy Larsen is President of Homeland Security Associates. Good morning, Randy. Were you surprised by his resignation?"
Randy Larsen, CBS News consultant, via satellite from Washington, DC: "Not at all. I thought it might happen about a week earlier, frankly."
Chen: "President Bush, his approval rating right now is at an all time low, do you think that has anything to do with why Mike Brown resigned?"
Larsen: "I think it has to do with the response, actually, of FEMA, but let me point out, in all fairness, it's like a quarterback in football. When the team wins, he gets too much credit, and when the team loses, he gets too much blame. But that's life in the big city, here, if you're the leader of an organization that's stumbling, you're probably going to get relieved."
Chen: "Is Mike Brown, in your opinion, to blame for the slow response FEMA had to the disaster, or is he a scapegoat here?"
Larsen: "Well, first of all we have to talk about his qualifications for the job. I mean, you know, let's face it, Julie, would a president appoint an attorney general who wasn't a lawyer, a surgeon general who wasn't a doctor, a chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff who wasn't a general? I think we should use the same standard for FEMA directors. It is a profession, and he did not have a background like the new gentleman, Paulison, that's been appointed."
Chen: "Who is to blame for the slow response FEMA had?"
Larsen: "Well, I, it's got to be the federal government, but it's also much bigger than FEMA. For instance, I think that people sometimes think that FEMA's this huge organization. It's less than 3000 people compared to two million people in the Department of Defense. It's primarily a contracting organization which brings money to the governors and mayors after disasters, because that's the way governors and mayors like it designed. They're in charge, the feds come in through FEMA to bring money. So, I think sometime's the expectations were a little bit high, but frankly, FEMA was better prepared for Hurricane Andrew, which is sort of the devastation we saw in Mississippi and Alabama than they were for New Orleans."
Chen: "What do you think of David Paulison? The President has tapped him to replace Mike Brown."
Larsen: "Looks like a real smart decision to me. Thirty years experience. The most important thing, Paulison will have great credibility with state and local emergency managers, mayors, and governors, and those sorts of folks. You know, one of the big problems is when someone comes in from Washington, DC, that says, hey, I'm here to help you and tell you what to do or whatever, sometimes the folks at state and local governments aren't real excited about that. But Paulison is one of their own. And he knows what it's like to be down there. He was there for Andrew, so I think it was an excellent choice at this time."
Chen: "Randy, is this country ready for the next disaster, be it natural or terrorist?"
Larsen: "Well, for a small one, yes. For a big one, I think clearly Katrina has demonstrated we are not."
Chen: "That is disturbing to hear. Colonel Randy Larsen..."
Larsen: "Yes, it is."
Chen: "We thank you."
### 7:15 a.m. EDT ###