If the resignation of Michael Brown as FEMA head is the end of the accountability process, rather than its start, we will never get around to the really serious questions that need to be asked about whether the US government is properly equipped to handle major disasters, or whether we need a serious rethink about our institutions and organizations responsible for these tasks.
It is very easy to jump on Brown, who clearly had minimal qualifications for the post. But the bureaucratic reorganization under DHS meant that the head of FEMA takes orders from the Homeland Security Secretary, currently Michael Chertoff. And of course, he is responsible to the President.
Now, I know Bush has taken “responsibilty.” But what does that mean? Responsibility, like leadership itself, is not words, it’s actions and consequences. Obviously he is not going to resign, and porobably neither is Chertoff (resignation is the usual meaning of taking “responsibility” in the highest levels of government in parliamentary systems), but a good place to start might be for Bush to call off his allies in Congress who are blocking the formation of an independent commission to investigate the response to Hurricane Katrina.
It is about accountability, and being accountable for decisions made and not made is how government officials take responsibility. It is also through the process of holding officials accountable for past actions that we have dicussions about reorganization of the responsible bureaucracies that might save lives in the future.