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FEMA Administrator Brock Long steps down

He oversaw the government’s response to Hurricane Maria.

Now-former FEMA Administrator Brock Long testifies before the House Oversight Committee in November 2018.
FEMA Administrator Brock Long testifies before the House Oversight Committee in November 2018.
Alex Wong/Getty Images
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FEMA Administrator Brock Long is exiting the agency.

Long, who took over as head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which falls under the Department of Homeland Security, in June 2017, said on Wednesday he would step down from the agency.

In an email to staff, he said the decision to resign was “one of the toughest decisions I ever had to make” and said he plans to spend more time with his family. “Whether you agreed with my vision for the Agency or not, thank you for standing with me as we tried new concepts designed to ultimately save lives and better our profession,” he wrote. “Together, we have laid the foundation for future successes within the field of emergency management.”

Long’s tenure at FEMA was at times a tumultuous one. He was head of the agency during Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico, for which the federal government is still under intense scrutiny over its handling. He also oversaw the government response to Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Florence and devastating wildfires in California.

During his tenure, Long came under ethics scrutiny over his use of government vehicles and staff for personal reasons. The DHS inspector general in September determined that Long misused government resources on 40 trips and cost taxpayers approximately $150,000. Long was subsequently ordered to reimburse the government but was allowed to stay on the job.

The circumstances of Long’s departure are not yet clear, but the Washington Post in September reported that Long had been engaged in a “bitter feud” with DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen. FEMA personnel reportedly convinced him not to quit, especially amid the response to Hurricane Florence in North Carolina.

Nielsen said that Long had “admirably” led FEMA during “very difficult, historic, and complex times” in a statement after his resignation was announced. “Under Brock’s leadership, FEMA has successfully supported State and Territory-led efforts to respond and recover from 6 major hurricanes, 5 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,” she said.

Long’s tenure was a mixed one at FEMA. He was also dealt a tough hand.

Long’s time at FEMA was sometimes troubled, but he also faced with unprecedented challenges: namely, the confluence of Hurricanes Maria, Irma, and Harvey in the late summer and early fall of 2017. The storms put a severe strain on the agency’s resources and deep scrutiny on the government’s response.

The federal government’s response to Hurricane Maria, which killed thousands of people in Puerto Rico, was especially under the microscope. And Long’s handling of the matter was often less than ideal.

In an interview with ABC News’s Martha Raddatz in October 2017, Long was fiercely criticized when he said that FEMA had “filtered out” the complaints of San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz, saying the government doesn’t “have time for the political noise.” Long also backed President Donald Trump on his assertions that the Hurricane Maria death tolls had been inflated after independent researchers determined the hurricane caused about 3,000 deaths in the months following the storm. Long said that academic studies on the issue were “all over the place.”

Long has described FEMA’s Puerto Rico response operation as one of the most logistically challenging ever — and said that Puerto Rico’s politics are in play.

“Politics between Republicans and Democrats is bad enough — but in Puerto Rico, politics is even worse,” he told reporters in October 2017. “When you can’t get elected officials at the local level to come to a joint field office because they disagree with the politics of the governor that’s there, it makes things difficult.”

Disasterologist Samantha Montano in an email said Long led FEMA “during a time of volatile federal leadership and through a tremendously challenging two years of disaster responses,” citing Hurricane Maria in particular. “Moving forward it is critical that the head of FEMA has a strong and established background in emergency management as communities continue to need FEMA’s support in recovery.”

Long closed his email to staff on Wednesday with a quote from Abraham Lincoln: “May God’s blessings follow me home, yet remain here with you. I bid you an affectionate farewell.”

Upon Long’s exit, Deputy Administrator Pete Gaynor will become acting FEMA administrator.

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