Trump official quits after coming under fire for commute to N.C.

Trump official quits after coming under fire for commute to N.C.

- in News, Top Story
Former FEMA Director Brock Long

President Trump’s top disaster management official, Brock Long, resigned as head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency on Wednesday.

Long became embroiled in an ethics scandal last year when reports surfaced that he had improperly used government resources for trips from FEMA’s headquarters in Washington, D.C., to North Carolina, his home state. A report issued last fall by the Homeland Security Department’s internal watchdog found that Long had improperly used government vehicles and staff during frequent six-hour road trips back to Hickory, N.C., where he lived with his family.

Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen referred Long’s case to the U.S. Attorney’s office for possible criminal prosecution, The Washington Post reported. He thought about quitting in September, the Post reported, but FEMA personnel convinced him not to.

Long didn’t mention the scandals in his resignation notice released Wednesday.

“While this has been the opportunity of the lifetime, it is time for me to go home to my family – my beautiful wife and two incredible boys,” he wrote. “As a career emergency management professional, I could not be prouder to have worked alongside the devoted, hardworking men and women of FEMA for the past two years.”

Before taking the helm of FEMA, Long — a North Carolina native — led the Alabama Emergency Management Agency and was FEMA’s hurricane program manager.

Long said Wednesday that his deputy administrator, Peter Gaynor, will step up as FEMA’s acting boss. “I leave knowing the Agency is in good hands,” Long wrote.

He noted that the agency worked on more than 220 declared disasters under his watch. And he offered praise for his bosses — including Nielsen. “President Trump, Vice President Pence and Secretary Nielsen have been extremely supportive of me, the FEMA workforce and our mission,” Long said.

The report from the Department of Homeland Security’s inspector general found that Long had misused more than $150,000 in government funds. Investigators found that four of his staffers took a total of 25 trips to North Carolina, none of which involved official business, the Post reported. The staffers stayed in hotels near his home, waiting to drive him back to Washington or to the airport in Charlotte.

Before the scandals surfaced, Long was widely respected by lawmakers on both sides of the aisle. He was confirmed in the Senate in May 2017 by a vote of 95-4, mustering bipartisan support that’s rare for Trump’s appointees. North Carolina’s Republican Sens. Richard Burr and Thom Tillis both supported him.

Interestingly, three of the four Democratic senators who voted against Long’s confirmation are now running for president: Cory Booker, Kirsten Gillibrand and Elizabeth Warren. The fourth was Brian Schatz of Hawaii.

U.S. Rep. G. K. Butterfield, a Democrat who represents North Carolina’s 1st District, told Policy Watch Wednesday afternoon that he’d just seen the news about Long’s departure.

“I had a few conference calls with Brock Long and he seemed to be very knowledgeable and committed to delivering resources to communities that need them,” Butterfield said.

Of the reports that Long had improperly spent government cash, the congressman added, “Any time I hear that a public servant, civil servant misuses government property, I’m concerned.”

Butterfield called FEMA “important to the country,” and he hopes the agency will be in good hands under the acting boss. “There’s a presumption that the person who’s the acting is qualified. Of course, we’ve seen that in the Department of Justice not to be true,” he said, referring to embattled Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker. “But in most instances, acting individuals are always ready for the job because they’ve been there for a while.”

Republican Rep. Mark Meadows, who represents the 11th District, said he didn’t know Long well, but that it’s “good to have a North Carolina guy in the administration.”

Meadows said of the allegations against Long, “Allegations fly more frequently than a frequent flyer” in Washington.

Meadows told Policy Watch he already has someone else in mind for the job: Mike Sprayberry, Director of North Carolina Emergency Management. Sprayberry first became North Carolina’s emergency management chief in 2013, when Republican Gov. Pat McCrory was in office.

Gavin Smith, a professor in the Department of Landscape Architecture at North Carolina State University who specializes in hazard mitigation, has known Long since the 1990s.

He said it’ll be difficult to replace someone like Long, “who has experience at multiple levels,” having worked for the state and federal government. He also worked in the private sector at a consulting firm.

“My bigger concern is for the long-term health of” FEMA,  he said.

Robin Bravender is the Washington Bureau Chief for The Newsroom network, of which NC Policy Watch is a member.