As House Oversight and Reform Committee lawmakers gear up for investigations into the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s response to catastrophic hurricanes in 2017, FEMA Administrator Brock Long on Wednesday announced his departure: “While this has been the opportunity of a lifetime, it is time for me to go home to my family.”
Deputy Administrator Pete Gaynor will become acting administrator, according to the Homeland Security Department, of which FEMA is a part.
In December, Rep. Elijah Cummings, then ranking member and now chairman of the House Oversight and Reform Committee, sent Long a letter demanding compliance with the committee’s previous requests for documents pertaining to the emergency response in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands following Hurricanes Irma and Maria, which resulted in thousands of deaths.
Specifically, House lawmakers want email communications between Long and officials in Puerto Rico, documents related to the “failure to provide tens of millions of emergency meals to U.S. citizens who were victims of the hurricanes in Puerto Rico,” and documentation related to “information obtained independently by Democratic staff indicating that FEMA failed to respond to multiple emergency requests from major supermarkets seeking fuel to run generators to help prevent food from spoiling in the days immediately following Hurricane Maria.”
Long’s departure comes as FEMA regains its footing following the 35-day partial government shutdown, which set back preparedness activities and planning just three months ahead of the 2019 hurricane season. An employee who works in FEMA’s resilience office told Government Executive the agency was unable to conduct exercises or planning for hurricane season or process grants to help state and local governments prevent terrorist attacks during the shutdown.
Long’s tenure at FEMA was controversial. In addition to the agency’s mishandling of contracts for meals and electricity following Hurricane Maria’s devastating blow to Puerto Rico, the Homeland Security inspector general found that Long spent $151,000 in taxpayer funds to pay for personal travel. In September 2018, he agreed to reimburse the government for misused funds.
In a statement, Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen said, “Under Brock’s leadership, FEMA has successfully supported State and Territory-led efforts to respond and recover from six major hurricanes, five historic wildfires and dozens of other serious emergencies. I appreciate his tireless dedication to FEMA and his commitment to fostering a culture of preparedness across the nation.”
“Rest assured, FEMA is prepared to continue to lead current recovery efforts, to respond to new disasters, and to get ready for this year’s hurricane season,” Nielsen said.