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FEMA Fiasco

Kennedy's Column

We teach techniques to determine a candidate's authenticity. Among these is carefully screening the resume before any face-to-face behavioral interview. Seldom has the importance of this been more apparent than with Michael Brown, who recently stepped down as director of FEMA after miserably handling the Hurricane Katrina relief effort.

Brown's incompetence and lack of candor was obvious to anyone who considered his resume qualifications to be the FEMA Director. In essence his prior experience was as a failed attorney and a failed commissioner for the International Arabian Horse Association.

He claimed a background in crisis management as "assistant city manager" for the city of Edmond, Oklahoma (population 68,000). It turns out he was actually the assistant "to" the City Manager, an intern level position. By dropping the word "to" from his resume, Brown inflated the status, scope and responsibility of his job. This is "too" much.

Given this deceit it’s no surprise Time Magazine revealed that Brown also falsely claimed to be the "Outstanding Political Science professor at Central State University." The university has no record of Brown teaching there.

Finally, he claimed to be a Director of the Oklahoma Christian Home, a nursing home in Edmond. He was never there in any capacity. Not only is Brown fraudulent, but he also lacks integrity. He said he "didn't pad his resume, instead the White House and FEMA made mistakes in describing two of his past jobs."

Is it any wonder that Brown was unaware of any problem at the New Orleans Convention Center more than 24 hours after it had been covered on TV as a disaster area in the city?

A careful resume screen should include a telephone screen to confirm the veracity of what is stated on the candidate's resume. For example, someone should have asked Brown, "As Assistant City Manager, what was your responsibility, how large was your budget, and how many people did you supervise?" It's not too much to expect any candidate to fairly and accurately represent him or herself on their resume. And if there are three misrepresentations there should be no face-to-face interview and much less an appointment to fill a key management position.