Inspector General: FEMA chief kept using gov’t vehicles after being told to stop

Even after he had been told not to, Federal Emergency Management Agency Administrator Brock Long used government SUVs and drivers to shuttle him between home and work, to and from his family’s North Carolina residence, and while on vacation, according to an Inspector General’s investigative report released by House Democrats on Wednesday.

FEMA did not immediately respond to CNN’s request to comment on the report.

The practice cost the government around $151,000, investigators estimated, and FEMA officials may have violated several federal laws, including destroying federal records and “theft of public money, property, or records.”

Several officials — whose names are redacted from the report — told investigators that Long knew FEMA attorneys believed he did not qualify for “home-to-work transportation,” but continued to use it, citing long hours of work and the need for secure communications. In several instances, drivers transported Long and his family to the airport, or picked up his children.

Long was informed that he could be driven home in certain circumstances, such as during hurricane response, but “the cost of the vehicles, drivers’ salaries, and gas for the vehicles would be considered a fringe benefit that would become taxable,” one FEMA official told investigators. “Long told him he could not afford that,” the report reads, and Long told investigators he “is going broke and in the hole every month.”

Long told investigators he believed the travel was authorized under a presidential directive about how the government should continue operating in a disaster, and that his “senior staff was working on obtaining clarity on the rules.” The vehicles were generally equipped with emergency communications equipment and “emergency lights and sirens.” Long told investigators the details of the equipment are classified.

The practice came under inspector general scrutiny after an accident involving a vehicle he was being transported in. Long’s name was not included in the accident report, which may have been an attempt “to hide Long’s presence,” the report says.

The report says officials were aware of Long’s travel to North Carolina to be with his family, but not that he used government vehicles for those trips.

Rep. Elijah Cummings, the top Democrat on the House Oversight Committee, called for Long to repay the full amount.

The report does not say if prosecutors will pursue criminal charges against Long or other officials.

On the Friday before Democrats released the report, Homeland Security Secretary Kirsten Nielsen released a statement about the OIG report saying she took “seriously the unauthorized or inappropriate use of government resources by any DHS employee.”

“I have taken action to address the problems identified by the OIG’s review, and Administrator Long and I discussed next steps to address the report’s specific findings. We had a productive conversation where we discussed my expectations regarding the agency’s use of Government vehicles going forward. The Administrator acknowledged that mistakes were made, and he took personal responsibility,” the statement read.

Nielsen also said in that statement she had asked Long to reimburse the government for “any nonofficial use of Government vehicles.”