FEMA head resigns

Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Administrator Brock Long announced Wednesday he is resigning, capping off a rocky tenure marked by ethics probes and scrutiny of his agency’s handling of a deadly hurricane in Puerto Rico.

In a statement, Long said he was stepping aside to spend more time with his family living in North Carolina.

“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 said. “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.”

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Peter Gaynor, the agency’s deputy administrator, will serve as acting chief until President TrumpDonald John TrumpDemocrats' CNN town halls exposed an extreme agenda Buttigieg says he doubts Sanders can win general election Post-Mueller, Trump has a good story to tell for 2020 MORE nominates a replacement and that person is confirmed.

Long oversaw the federal response to a string of natural disasters during his 18 months at FEMA, including devastating hurricanes in Texas and the southeast as well as historic wildfires in California.

But the U.S. government’s handling of Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico was widely criticized, and congressional Democrats have announced plans to investigate the Trump administration’s response and recovery efforts. The storm left 2,975 people dead and large swaths of the island territory without power for months.

“With this administration’s leadership, we also improved and transformed the field of emergency management,” Long said. 

Long also faced pressure to resign in September amid an internal watchdog probe of his use of official government vehicles and staff to drive from Washington, D.C., to his North Carolina home.

The Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) inspector general found Long improperly used federal vehicles and employees and it cost taxpayers $94,000 in staff salary, $55,000 in travel expenditures and $2,000 in maintenance costs. The report also said Long used government resources in nonofficial capacities, including during a trip to Hawaii.

Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen NielsenKirstjen Michele NielsenNielsen was warned not to talk to Trump about new Russian election interference: report DHS head: Separating migrant families 'not on the table' Trump moves to crack down on visa overstays MORE, who oversees FEMA, said at the time she had a “productive conversation” with Long, in which he acknowledged “mistakes were made” and he took “personal responsibility.” She did not publicly call for his firing.

“Over the last two years, Administrator Long has admirably led the men and women of FEMA during very difficult, historic and complex times,” Nielsen said Wednesday. “I appreciate his tireless dedication to FEMA and his commitment to fostering a culture of preparedness across the nation.”

Even under temporary leadership, Nielsen said “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.”

Long’s exit leaves another high-profile vacancy inside the Trump administration.

Roughly one quarter of Cabinet-level officials are serving in an acting capacity, including the leaders of the Departments of Justice, Defense and Interior, as well as the White House chief of staff, Environmental Protection Agency administrator and the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.

FEMA, housed within DHS, is not a Cabinet agency. But its administrator typically plays a prominent public role in disaster-response situations.