WASHINGTON — Federal Emergency Management Agency Director Michael Brown is being relieved of his command of the Bush administration's Hurricane Katrina onsite relief efforts, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff announced Friday.
He will be replaced by Coast Guard Vice Adm. Thad W. Allen, who was overseeing New Orleans relief and rescue efforts, Chertoff said.
Earlier, Brown confirmed the switch. Asked if he was being made a scapegoat for a federal relief effort that has drawn widespread and sharp criticism, Brown told The Associated Press after a long pause: "By the press, yes. By the president, No."
"Michael Brown has done everything he possibly could to coordinate the federal response to this unprecedented challenge," Chertoff told reporters in Baton Rouge, La. Chertoff sidestepped a question on whether the move was the first step toward Brown's leaving FEMA.
But a source close to Brown, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the FEMA director had been considering leaving after the hurricane season ended in November and that Friday's action virtually assures his departure.
Brown has been under fire because of the administration's slow response to the magnitude of the hurricane. On Thursday, questions were raised about whether he padded his resume to exaggerate his previous emergency management background.
Less than an hour before Brown's removal came to light, White House press secretary Scott McClellan said Brown had not resigned and the president had not asked for his resignation.
Chertoff suggested the shift came as the Gulf Coast efforts were entering "a new phase of the recovery operation." He said Brown would return to Washington to oversee the government's response to other potential disasters.
"I appreciate his work, as does everybody here," Chertoff said.
"I'm anxious to get back to D.C. to correct all the inaccuracies and lies that are being said," Brown said in a telephone interview with The Associated Press.
Asked if the move was a demotion, Brown said: "No. No. I'm still the director of FEMA."
He said Chertoff made the decision to move him out of Louisiana. It was not his own decision, Brown said.
"I'm going to go home and walk my dog and hug my wife and, maybe get a good Mexican meal and a stiff margarita and a full night's sleep. And then I'm going to go right back to FEMA and continue to do all I can to help these victims," Brown said. "This story's not about me. This story's about the worst disaster of the history of our country that stretched every government to its limit and now we have to help these victims."
Amid escalating calls for Brown's ouster, the White House had insisted publicly for days that Bush retained confidence in his FEMA chief. But there was no question that Brown's star was fading in the administration. In the storm's early days, Brown was the president's primary briefer on its path and the response effort, but by the weekend those duties had been taken over by Brown's boss — Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff.
Also, while Brown was very visibly by the president's side during Bush's first on-the-ground visit to the hurricane zone last week, he remained behind the scenes — with Chertoff out front.
Even before Chertoff's announcement, the beleaguered Brown was facing questions Friday about his resume.
A 2001 press release on the White House Web site says Brown worked for the city of Edmond, Okla., from 1975 to 1978 "overseeing emergency services divisions."
Brown's official biography on the FEMA Web site says that his background in state and local government also includes serving as "an assistant city manager with emergency services oversight" and as a city councilman.
But a former mayor of Edmond, Randel Shadid, told The Associated Press on Friday that Brown had been an assistant to the city manager. Shadid said Brown was never assistant city manager.
"I think there's a difference between the two positions," said Shadid. "I would think that is a discrepancy."
Asked later about the White House news release that said Brown oversaw Edmond's emergency services divisions, Shadid said, "I don't think that's a total stretch."
Time magazine first reported the discrepancy.
Separately, Newsday reported another discrepancy regarding Brown's background. The official White House announcement of Brown's nomination to head FEMA in January 2003 lists his previous experience as "the Executive Director of the Independent Electrical Contractors," a trade group based in Alexandria, Va.
Two officials of the group told Newsday this week that Brown never was the national head of the group but did serve as the executive director of a regional chapter, based in Colorado.
A longtime acquaintance, Carl Reherman, said Brown was very involved in helping set up an emergency operations center in Edmond and assisting in the creation of an emergency contingency plan in the 1970s. At the time, Reherman was a city councilman, and later became mayor.
"From my experience with Mike, he not only worked very hard on everything he did, he had very high standards," said Reherman, who also knew Brown when he was a student taking classes from Reherman, who was a professor of political science at Central State University.
Nicol Andrews, deputy strategic director in FEMA's office of public affairs, told Time that while Brown began as an intern, he became an "assistant city manager" with a distinguished record of service.
"According to Mike Brown," Andrews told Time, a large portion of points raised by the magazine are "very inaccurate."
Associated Press writers Ron Fournier, Pete Yost and Ted Bridis in Washington and Richard Green in Oklahoma City contributed to this story.