A Department of Homeland Security Inspector General’s investigation found that the head of the Federal Emergency Management Administration took advantage of government-issued vehicles by using them to travel to his home in North Carolina and for other non-official purposes. According to DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, administrator William “Brock” Long will reimburse the government for the cost of the misuse but he will not lose his job.
In a statement on Friday, Nielsen said that there had once been a longstanding practice of allowing FEMA administrators to use government vehicles so that they could be connected with the agency during crisis situations. However, use of government vehicles for travel from home to work was never officially authorized under the practice. Moreover, the practice was abolished last April.
Nielsen also reported having a “productive conversation” with Long in which he took personal responsibility and agreed to reimburse the agency for the cost of the unapproved trips, although it’s not clear how much the reimbursement will be. She also said she has directed DHS to review its policies on home-to-work transportation involving top FEMA officials and to assess their communication requirements to ensure they can remain connected during disasters, and to review the training about the proper use of agency vehicles.
The conversation with Nielsen may not end the matter, however. The Inspector General’s Office has forwarded its findings to federal prosecutors to determine if criminal charges would be appropriate. This is a relatively common practice and does not indicate that Long will be charged with any crime.
Moreover, the House Oversight Committee is investigating the issue. It has asked Long to submit all documents related to his travel to the committee by Oct. 1. The documentation requested includes whether any staff lodgings were paid for by the taxpayer.
Long has been the head of FEMA since June of last year. He was in charge of the agency’s response to hurricanes Irma, Harvey and Maria, along with the massive California wildfires.
For the average federal employee, an allegation of misusing agency funds is likely to result in disciplinary action. Federal government employees are entitled to protection from unfair or arbitrary treatment, but the best way to ensure that protection may be to contact a federal employment law attorney as soon as possible.