WASHINGTON – FEMA Administrator Brock Long said he won’t resign over allegations that he used government vehicles to regularly commute home to North Carolina from Washington and denied that he has been asked to step aside.
“I’m here to serve my country every day – that’s all I do,” Long said on NBC’s “Meet the Press” Sunday.
And he denied reports that Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen asked him step down amid the ethics investigation.
“Secretary Nielsen has never asked me to resign,” Long said. “We have a very functional and professional relationship. We talk every day. We are both solely focused on Florence.”
Long has been under investigation for his regular trips home to Hickory, N.C., with a caravan of federal workers who stay in hotels for the long weekends, according to the Wall Street Journal.
He’s been under surveillance during his 400-mile commute and officials have tallied 150 days Long has spent in North Carolina since he took the Washington job last year as chief of US disaster management, the paper reported.
Long explained Sunday his job is “incredibly complex” and the government vehicles were provided under a previous program.
“I have a very critical and important role to make sure that this government works on the nation’s worst day, through continuity of government,” Long said.
“These vehicles are designed to provide secure communications. And the program was actually developed back in 2008. It ran for me the same way it’s run for anybody else.”
Long said he’s aware of the investigation and that the travel policies may need to be updated.
“It’s my understanding that maybe some policies were not developed around these vehicles that we will get cleared up and pushed forward,” Long said.
Also Sunday, the embattled FEMA head came to the defense of his boss. President Trump inexplicably denied there were 3,000 deaths in Puerto Rico related to Hurricane Maria and accused Democrats of faking the numbers “to make me look as bad as possible.”
Trump’s accusations set off a firestorm of controversy as the island still is recovering from the devastation of last year’s hurricane.
Long declined to endorse the 3,000 death toll figure and said numbers are “all over the place.”
He also downplayed the indirect deaths associated with the hurricane’s aftermath.
“You might see more deaths indirectly occur as time goes on because people have heart attacks due to stress. They fall off their house trying to fix their roof,” Long said. “They die in car crashes because they went through an intersection where the stoplights weren’t working… There’s all kinds of studies on this that we take a look at. Spousal abuse goes through the roof. You can’t blame spousal abuse, you know, after a disaster on anybody.”
For his part, Trump has praised the work of FEMA under Long’s leadership.
“FEMA, First Responders and Law Enforcement are working really hard on hurricane Florence,” Trump tweeted Sunday. “As the storm begins to finally recede, they will kick into an even higher gear. Very Professional!”