NEW ORLEANS (Reuters) - Former Sen. John Edwards said at a Hurricane Katrina conference he would propose what he called "Brownie's Law" requiring that qualified people, not political hacks, lead key federal agencies.
Edwards, who is seeking the Democratic presidential nomination, drew laughter when he spoke on Monday of the proposal at the "Hope and Recovery Summit" ahead of the two-year anniversary of the storm on Wednesday.
"It's an absolute travesty to have people who are essentially political hacks in a very responsible position," he told the audience at the University of New Orleans.
"Brownie" refers to Michael Brown, who was head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency when Katrina struck the United States on August 29, 2005. He was criticized as being a political appointee unprepared to lead FEMA when a floundering government effort stranded thousands for days in flooded New Orleans.
He resigned shortly after President George W. Bush, who appointed him to the post, told him publicly, "Brownie, you're doing a heck of a job" as chaos reigned in the devastated city.
Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton and Republican presidential hopefuls Mike Huckabee and Duncan Hunter also spoke at Monday's summit. All candidates for the two major parties were invited, but only these four could attend, a summit spokeswoman said.
Clinton, Edward's Democratic rival, blasted the Bush administration's response to Katrina, saying the government has not done enough to help New Orleans recover from the storm that killed more than 1,400 people and destroyed thousands of homes.
"We act like we're not a rich country. I don't understand that," Clinton said.
Huckabee, a former Arkansas governor whose finished second in a recent Iowa Republican presidential straw poll, gave the government a "mixed review" on Katrina and said he would make sure federal aid money was well spent.
After Katrina, "there was a lot of guilt and so the guilt resulted in just putting (in) money, not necessarily strategic money," he said.
Hunter, a U.S. representative from California, said Katrina had proven that "government is inept."
He praised the efforts of average citizens to help storm victims, saying: "I see rising from the destruction of Katrina a new and profound appreciation for freedom."