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Ex-FEMA Chief Reverses Prior Stand, Agrees to be Interviewed

By Eric Lipton
THE NEW YORK TIMES


WASHINGTON

For months, Michael D. Brown, former director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, has declined to answer questions from Congress about his conversations during Hurricane Katrina with top Bush administration officials. But in an interview on Thursday, he said that his position had changed.

Now that he is a private citizen, he said, “I feel an obligation to answer any questions they put to me.”

Brown will have that chance on Friday, when he is scheduled to testify to the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, which is nearing the end of a five-month inquiry on the hurricane.

“The public needs to know the entire picture of what was going on,” Brown said.

Brown’s lawyer, in a letter sent Monday to Harriet E. Miers, the White House counsel, wrote that “unless there is specific direction otherwise by the president” that “ Brown will testify, if asked, about particular communications he had” with White House officials and others in the executive branch.

As of Thursday evening, Brown and his lawyer, Andrew W. Lester, said they had received no calls or letters from the White House urging Brown to remain silent.

The testimony will make clear, Brown said, that senior administration officials, including President Bush, recognized the severity of the problem in New Orleans in the immediate aftermath of the storm. But changes in the organization of FEMA and the powers of the director of the agency after it became part of the Homeland Security Department, Brown said, prevented him from effectively leading the response.

The administration has declined House and Senate investigators’ requests to turn over e-mail messages and other correspondence from top White House officials involved in the hurricane response. Bush, asked last month whether Brown should testify about his White House discussions, seemed to urge him to not do so.

A White House spokesman, Trent Duffy, said he had nothing to add to that comment.

Brown, whose permanent residence is in Colorado but continues to live here, has formed a disaster-relief consultancy. He would not name clients, but said had signed up a number of companies, including firms that sell communications equipment and work on rebuilding on the Gulf Coast.