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FEMA chief Brock Long is leaving the agency he led through record natural disasters

FEMA chief Brock Long is leaving the agency he led through record natural disasters
FEMA Administrator Brock Long speaks during a news conference on the Camp fire in Chico, Calif., on Nov. 14. (Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times)

Federal Emergency Management Agency chief Brock Long is leaving the agency he led through a record period of natural disasters — including a widely panned response to a storm that devastated Puerto Rico.

“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 said in a statement. Long said he would leave March 8 and that his deputy, Peter Gaynor, would serve as acting administrator.

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Since taking over the agency in June 2017, Long has overseen the federal government’s response to an extraordinary series of disasters, from powerful hurricanes that struck the southeastern U.S. and Puerto Rico to wildfires that scorched California.

“This is one of the toughest decisions I have ever had to make,” Long told FEMA staff in an email. “Thank you for an incredible journey and for the support you have shown me. 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.”

House Democrats have pledged to investigate the agency’s response to Hurricane Maria’s strike on Puerto Rico. The storm left most of the commonwealth without electricity for months, and caused an estimated 2,975 deaths.

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

Long’s tenure began with unusual bipartisan support — he was confirmed by a 95-4 vote — but was later dogged by ethics complaints regarding his use of government vehicles.

An inquiry by the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Inspector General concluded that Long took government cars for his personal use despite FEMA’s own lawyers telling him it wasn’t appropriate.

Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen said that Long would have to reimburse the government for the cost of the vehicles and staff involved in the trips, many of which were between Washington and his home in North Carolina. The report puts that cost at $151,000.

Before taking the FEMA post, Long worked at an emergency management consulting firm. Until 2011, he ran Alabama’s emergency management agency.

Earlier, when Hurricane Michael wiped out broad swaths of Florida, Long criticized citizens for failing to heed evacuation warnings and leaders for not better preparing for such natural disasters.

“It’s frustrating to us because we repeat this same cycle over and over again,” Long said during a press briefing last year at FEMA headquarters in Washington. “If you want to live in these areas, you’ve got to do it in a more resilient fashion.”

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