Alarm bells at FEMA As chief fights for his job, there’s a thin bench to suc­ceed him.

The Washington Post Sunday - - FRONT PAGE - BY WIL­LIAM WAN AND NICK MIROFF wil­liam.wan@wash­ nick.miroff@wash­ Philip Rucker and Mark Berman con­trib­uted to this re­port.

As the Fed­eral Emer­gency Man­age­ment Agency heads into peak hur­ri­cane season, an in­ter­nal in­ves­ti­ga­tion has im­per­iled its top of­fi­cial, spark­ing a grow­ing back­lash within the agency where ca­reer of­fi­cials and even some po­lit­i­cal ap­pointees are wor­ried there is no proven dis­as­ter man­ager on hand to re­place him.

FEMA Ad­min­is­tra­tor Wil­liam “Brock” Long is said to be re­sist­ing an ef­fort by Home­land Se­cu­rity Sec­re­tary Kirst­jen Nielsen to re­place him over his al­leged mis­use of gov­ern­ment ve­hi­cles. The feud among se­nior Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cials sur­faced pub­licly in re­cent days as FEMA and the De­part­ment of Home­land Se­cu­rity raced to pre­pare for the ar­rival of Hur­ri­cane Florence.

The prospect of Long’s dis­missal has alarmed cur­rent and for­mer staff at FEMA and DHS, and it has cap­tured the at­ten­tion of of­fi­cials on Capi­tol Hill, who note that the agency’s No. 2 po­si­tion has been va­cant for nearly two years and that Trump’s cur­rent nom­i­nee, Peter Gaynor, still awaits Se­nate con­fir­ma­tion. Trump’s orig­i­nal nom­i­nee for the post, Daniel Craig, with­drew from con­sid­er­a­tion a year ago af­ter re­ports sur­faced that the DHS in­spec­tor gen­eral found he had fal­si­fied work and travel records while work­ing for the Ge­orge W. Bush ad­min­is­tra­tion.

FEMA’s third in com­mand, Daniel Kaniewski, could take over, at least on an in­terim ba­sis, if Long were to leave. But his back­ground in pol­icy and academia — and his lack of hands-on emer­gency man­age­ment ex­pe­ri­ence — has gen­er­ated con­cern that an in­ter­nal shake-up would un­set­tle the agency at the worst pos­si­ble time.

This ac­count of the power strug­gle and in­ter­nal strife at FEMA and DHS is based on in­ter­views with 14 cur­rent and for­mer gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials and con­gres­sional aides. Most spoke on the con­di­tion of anonymity to of­fer their can­did as­sess­ment of the mat­ter.

“Who in their right mind thought this was a good idea to try to take out the FEMA ad­min­is­tra­tor in the mid­dle of a storm?” said one for­mer top FEMA of­fi­cial, an­gry that the in­fight­ing spilled into pub­lic view with mil­lions of Amer­i­cans un­der threat from Florence. “Even if that’s your ob­jec­tive, save it for af­ter the hur­ri­cane.”

Long, a vet­eran emer­gency man­ager whom staffers de­scribed as highly re­spected through­out the agency, is un­der in­ves­ti­ga­tion by the DHS in­spec­tor gen­eral for his use of gov­ern­ment ve­hi­cles dur­ing week­end travel be­tween Wash­ing­ton and his home in North Carolina to see his wife and young chil­dren. In­ves­ti­ga­tors have surveilled Long dur­ing those trips, which were said to in­clude other FEMA staffers, rais­ing ques­tions in­ter­nally about his use of gov­ern­ment re­sources, a se­nior ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cial said Satur­day.

The in­spec­tor gen­eral’s sur­veil­lance of Long was first re­ported Fri­day by the Wall Street Jour­nal.

An of­fi­cial with knowl­edge of Long’s sched­ule said that while Long has trav­eled home of­ten, the de­mands of his job have also meant large blocks of time away from his fam­ily. Dur­ing one stretch from late Au­gust to early De­cem­ber — at the height of last year’s hur­ri­cane season — Long did not re­turn to North Carolina once while trav­el­ing to Texas for Hur­ri­cane Har­vey, to Puerto Rico and the Vir­gin Is­lands for Hur­ri­cane Maria, to Florida for Hur­ri­cane Irma, and to Cal­i­for­nia to as­sess FEMA’s re­sponse to wild­fires.

Long has told col­leagues he has no in­ten­tion of step­ping down and re­mains fo­cused on co­or­di­nat­ing FEMA’s re­sponse to the deadly Florence, which has trig­gered wide­spread flood­ing in the Caroli­nas. At a brief­ing Thurs­day, Long de­nied do­ing any­thing im­proper, say­ing that’s “not part of my DNA.”

DHS and White House of­fi­cials, in­clud­ing Chief of Staff John F. Kelly, have dis­cussed re­plac­ing Long but de­cided to wait un­til Florence passes and the in­spec­tor gen­eral’s team com­pletes its in­ves­ti­ga­tion, the se­nior ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cial said. They ac­knowl­edge Long is highly com­pe­tent and that the al­le­ga­tions against him present a dilemma.

In a state­ment, deputy White House press sec­re­tary Ho­gan Gi­d­ley said: “We are aware of the al­le­ga­tions and will re­view the IG Re­port when it is com­plete. How­ever, right now the Ad­min­is­tra­tion is work­ing non­stop to pre­pare and im­ple­ment a mas­sive fed­eral gov­ern­ment sup­port ef­fort for those im­pacted by hur­ri­cane Florence.”

DHS of­fi­cials have said that Nielsen de­nies ask­ing Long to leave and that she is “con­fi­dent in the lead­er­ship at FEMA and their proven dis­as­ter man­age­ment abil­ity.”

Long has kept a low pro­file since news of the probe was dis­closed to the me­dia, last speak­ing with Trump by phone on Fri­day, FEMA As­so­ciate Ad­min­is­tra­tor Jeff Byard told re­porters dur­ing a me­dia brief­ing Satur­day. Asked if Long would re­main in the job, Byard said: “Our ad­min­is­tra­tor’s our ad­min­is­tra­tor. He’s given our team very clear guid­ance that the fo­cus is Florence.”

Nielsen’s al­leged de­sire to re­move Long dates back months, ac­cord­ing to peo­ple fa­mil­iar with the mat­ter who be­lieve the in­spec­tor gen­eral’s in­ves­ti­ga­tion of Long is part of Nielsen’s ef­fort to make a change at FEMA. She and Kaniewski are close friends and one­time house­mates, ac­cord­ing to three cur­rent and for­mer col­leagues.

Cur­rent and for­mer FEMA of­fi­cials said there would be alarm within the agency if Nielsen were to in­stall Kaniewski into the top job, if only on a tem­po­rary ba­sis while a new per­ma­nent ad­min­is­tra­tor is vet­ted.

Kaniewski was con­firmed by the Se­nate unan­i­mously in Septem­ber 2017 for the role of FEMA’s deputy ad­min­is­tra­tor for pre­pared­ness. His ti­tle has since changed to deputy ad­min­is­tra­tor for “re­silience.” In that role, he over­sees ar­eas such as in­sur­ance, pre­pared­ness and grants, ac­cord­ing to FEMA of­fi­cials.

Kaniewski holds a doc­tor­ate in pub­lic pol­icy from Ge­orge Wash­ing­ton Univer­sity, taught as an ad­junct at Ge­orge­town Univer­sity, and has worked at a univer­sity think tank, a catas­tro­phe riskmod­el­ing firm and a fed­er­ally funded re­search cen­ter. Yet de­spite his aca­demic pedi­gree and pol­icy back­ground, he has lit­tle ex­pe­ri­ence di­rect­ing dis­as­ter re­sponse.

Jes­sica Nalepa, a spokes­woman for FEMA, said Ka­nieswki is “highly re­garded in the emer­gency man­age­ment com­mu­nity and has been an in­valu­able mem­ber of the Ad­min­is­tra­tion’s lead­er­ship team through mul­ti­ple ma­jor dis­as­ters.”

“He is cur­rently ac­tively in­volved in the agency’s re­sponse to Hur­ri­cane Florence,” she said in a state­ment.

The top job at FEMA has been held by an of­fi­cial with am­ple lead­er­ship ex­pe­ri­ence in dis­as­ter man­age­ment ever since the botched fed­eral re­sponse to Hur­ri­cane Ka­t­rina in 2005, which left more than 1,800 dead. Leg­is­la­tion passed in the wake of that storm man­dates that FEMA’s ad­min­is­tra­tor have at least five years’ ex­pe­ri­ence, though the law’s vague word­ing al­lows for that ex­pe­ri­ence to come from re­lated fields be­yond cri­sis man­age­ment.

“Af­ter Ka­t­rina, the qual­i­fi­ca­tion to be FEMA ad­min­is­tra­tor dras­ti­cally changed. No more ‘Brown­ies,’ ” ex­plained a cur­rent DHS of­fi­cial, re­fer­ring to ex-FEMA ad­min­is­tra­tor Michael Brown, who be­came the sym­bol of gov­ern­ment in­ep­ti­tude when crit­ics latched on to Bush’s now-in­fa­mous dec­la­ra­tion amid the fall­out, “Brownie, you’re do­ing a heck of a job.”

The bit­ter mem­o­ries of that episode could make it dif­fi­cult for a pol­icy ex­pert like Kaniewski to step into the top job if Long de­parts.

“I have a lot of con­fi­dence in his abil­ity, but at the same time I don’t want to see any­one have to re­place Brock,” said for­mer ad­min­is­tra­tor R. David Pauli­son, who took over FEMA in 2005 af­ter Brown’s res­ig­na­tion.

But Kaniewski has a pow­er­ful ad­vo­cate in Nielsen, with whom he worked as a home­land se­cu­rity ad­viser to Bush and later at Ge­orge Wash­ing­ton Univer­sity’s Cen­ter for Cyber and Home­land Se­cu­rity. Last year, while Nielsen served as the DHS chief of staff, she lob­bied for Kaniewski’s nom­i­na­tion to the deputy ad­min­is­tra­tor po­si­tion at FEMA but was over­ruled, ac­cord­ing to a con­gres­sional staffer with knowl­edge of the process.

A DHS of­fi­cial who works closely with Nielsen de­nied that ac­count and said Kaniewski was al­ways in­tended to be head of pre­pared­ness at FEMA.

Those who’ve worked with Long de­scribe him as “revered” among FEMA staff and state-level dis­as­ter man­age­ment of­fi­cials. He was emer­gency man­age­ment di­rec­tor for the state of Al­abama and, be­fore that, a FEMA re­gional hur­ri­cane pro­gram man­ager.

“It’s con­cern­ing be­cause I don’t know that you can find many oth­ers with that level of ex­pe­ri­ence,” said Mark Cooper, who has worked in dis­as­ter re­sponse for three decades and is now chief of staff for Louisiana Gov. John Bel Ed­wards. Cooper worked closely with Long dur­ing hur­ri­canes Gus­tav and Ike in 2008, when they led re­sponse ef­forts for the states of Al­abama and Louisiana, re­spec­tively.

“He took in thou­sands of our res­i­dents when not a lot of other states were will­ing to do that,” Cooper said. “And since he’s been at FEMA, he’s been on 24/7. There’s not a time we’ve reached out, whether on Sun­day or late at night, when he’s not been re­spon­sive to us.”

Cur­rent and for­mer FEMA of­fi­cials also noted that Long has filled sev­eral key po­lit­i­cal ap­pointee jobs with ex­pe­ri­enced emer­gency of­fi­cials. They worry that if he is forced out, those sea­soned vet­er­ans may leave with him or be re­placed with less-ex­pe­ri­enced ones.

Oth­ers worry that even if Long sur­vives, the frayed re­la­tion­ship with Nielsen could ex­ac­er­bate is­sues be­tween FEMA and DHS. “There’s prob­lems baked into that re­la­tion­ship that pre­date them,” ex­plained one FEMA staffer. “Dur­ing dis­as­ters, the FEMA ad­min­is­tra­tor is the prin­ci­pal ad­viser to the pres­i­dent. They’re the ones in front of the cam­era and lead­ing the charge, even though they os­ten­si­bly re­port to DHS. That’s al­ways been a source of fric­tion.”

How­ever, one for­mer FEMA of­fi­cial said a lead­er­ship change now, even though it’s hur­ri­cane season, may have less im­pact than some fear. “The re­al­ity is the ca­reer folks who have been work­ing at the agency for years could run FEMA for a while just fine,” the for­mer of­fi­cial said, “but that’s only true if the po­lit­i­cal folks stay out of their way.”


FEMA Ad­min­is­tra­tor Wil­liam “Brock” Long is un­der in­ves­ti­ga­tion by the DHS in­spec­tor gen­eral for his use of gov­ern­ment ve­hi­cles.

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