WASHINGTON — FEMA Director Brock Long resigned from his post on Wednesday "to go home to [his] family" after two years as the head of the agency, where he faced criticism for his handling of Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico and his use of government cars for personal business.
In a statement released on Wednesday afternoon, Long said that President Donald Trump, Vice President Mike Pence, and Department of Homeland Security head Kirstjen Nielsen "have been extremely supportive" of him during his time at the agency.
“It has been a great honor to serve our country as FEMA Administrator for the past two years," he said in the statement. "During my tenure, the Agency worked more than 220 declared disasters."
FEMA's own internal report last year found that the agency was deeply understaffed and unprepared to respond to Hurricane Maria, the Category 5 hurricane that decimated Puerto Rico's infrastructure in 2017 and left millions without water, electricity, and cell reception for months. According to the internal report, one week after the hurricane FEMA did not have information about the status of 24 out of 52 wastewater treatment plants or 37 of 69 hospitals on the island.
“Because FEMA and its partners lacked situational awareness early in the response, the Agency initially could not be certain that FEMA and interagency partner efforts were sufficient to stabilize the incident,” that report, released in July, found.
In the aftermath of the hurricane in Puerto Rico, the agency also came under fire for its handling of temporary housing for evacuees who were forced to flee their homes. Thousands of families relying on FEMA's Transitional Sheltering Assistance program faced eviction several times from their temporary housing as the agency waited until the last minute to renew the program.
"Under Long’s tenure, FEMA has been inexplicably, inexcusably and repeatedly slow to assist the lowest income disaster survivors meet their most basic need: a safe, affordable place to call home," said Diane Yentel, president of the National Low Income Housing Coalition, after Long's resignation.
Yentel added that FEMA did not provide adequate shelter for disaster survivors not just from Puerto Rico but also those who survived natural disasters in Florida, Houston, North and South Carolina, and California.
"Mr. Long’s inaction has had shameful and heartbreaking consequences, leaving the most vulnerable disaster survivors with little choice but to return to uninhabitable homes, sleep in cars or tents, double or triple up with other low-income families, or, in the worst cases, become homeless," she said.
In September, Long was investigated by the Department of Homeland Security's Office of Inspector General for misuse of government cars. He continued in his position but was ordered to pay for the costs of using FEMA vehicles for personal trips, including travel between Washington, DC, and his home in Hickory, North Carolina, without approval.
“I hope the Administration will be forthcoming with Congress as to the reason for Mr. Long’s abrupt departure," House Homeland Security Committee chair Bennie Thompson said in a statement Wednesday. "I also hope that the President will quickly nominate a capable replacement who has proven track record of emergency management. The American public cannot afford a leadership gap at FEMA given the increasing devastation caused by natural disasters and after the inadequate federal response to Hurricane Maria in 2017.”
Following criticism over his agency's response to Hurricane Maria, Long made an appearance on NBC in September in which he supported President Trump's denial that thousands of Puerto Ricans had died as a result of the hurricane.
At that time, FEMA had approved just 75 of 2,431 requests from Puerto Rican families for funeral assistance related to the hurricane.
Nielsen praised Long's "tireless dedication to FEMA and his commitment to fostering a culture of preparedness across the nation" in a statement on Wednesday afternoon.
News of Long's resignation was first reported by Bloomberg.
“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," Long wrote in his statement.
Peter Gaynor, currently FEMA's deputy administrator, will take over as acting head of the agency.