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FEMA Administrator Brock Long resigns

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FEMA Administrator Brock Long is exiting the agency.

Long, who took over as head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which falls under the Department of Homeland Security, in June 2017, said on Wednesday he would step down from the agency.

In an email to staff, he said the decision to resign was “one of the toughest decisions I ever had to make” and said he plans to spend more time with his family. “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,” he wrote. “Together, we have laid the foundation for future successes within the field of emergency management.”

Long’s tenure at FEMA was at times a tumultuous one. He was head of the agency during Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico, for which the federal government is still under intense scrutiny over its handling. He also oversaw the government response to Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Florence and devastating wildfires in California.

During his tenure, Long came under ethics scrutiny over his use of government vehicles and staff for personal reasons. The DHS inspector general in September determined that Long misused government resources on 40 trips and cost taxpayers approximately $150,000. Long was subsequently ordered to reimburse the government but was allowed to stay on the job.

The circumstances of Long’s departure are not yet clear, but the Washington Post in September reported that Long had been engaged in a “bitter feud” with DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen. FEMA personnel reportedly convinced him not to quit, especially amid the response to Hurricane Florence in North Carolina.

Nielsen said that Long had “admirably” led FEMA during “very difficult, historic, and complex times” in a statement after his resignation was announced. “Under Brock’s leadership, FEMA has successfully supported State and Territory-led efforts to respond and recover from 6 major hurricanes, 5 historic wildfires and dozens of other serious emergencies. I appreciate his tireless dedication to FEMA and his commitment to fostering a culture of preparedness across the nation,” she said.

Long’s tenure was a mixed one at FEMA. He was also dealt a tough hand.

Long’s time at FEMA was sometimes troubled, but he also faced with unprecedented challenges: namely, the confluence of Hurricanes Maria, Irma, and Harvey in the late summer and early fall of 2017. The storms put a severe strain on the agency’s resources and deep scrutiny on the government’s response.

The federal government’s response to Hurricane Maria, which killed thousands of people in Puerto Rico, was especially under the microscope. And Long’s handling of the matter was often less than ideal.

In an interview with ABC News’s Martha Raddatz in October 2017, Long was fiercely criticized when he said that FEMA had “filtered out” the complaints of San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz, saying the government doesn’t “have time for the political noise.” Long also backed President Donald Trump on his assertions that the Hurricane Maria death tolls had been inflated after independent researchers determined the hurricane caused about 3,000 deaths in the months following the storm. Long said that academic studies on the issue were “all over the place.”

Long has described FEMA’s Puerto Rico response operation as one of the most logistically challenging ever — and said that Puerto Rico’s politics are in play.

“Politics between Republicans and Democrats is bad enough — but in Puerto Rico, politics is even worse,” he told reporters in October 2017. “When you can’t get elected officials at the local level to come to a joint field office because they disagree with the politics of the governor that’s there, it makes things difficult.”

Disasterologist Samantha Montano in an email said Long led FEMA “during a time of volatile federal leadership and through a tremendously challenging two years of disaster responses,” citing Hurricane Maria in particular. “Moving forward it is critical that the head of FEMA has a strong and established background in emergency management as communities continue to need FEMA’s support in recovery.”

Long closed his email to staff on Wednesday with a quote from Abraham Lincoln: “May God’s blessings follow me home, yet remain here with you. I bid you an affectionate farewell.”

Upon Long’s exit, Deputy Administrator Pete Gaynor will become acting FEMA administrator.


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Vox Sentences is your daily digest for what’s happening in the world. Sign up for the Vox Sentences newsletter, delivered straight to your inbox Monday through Friday, or view the Vox Sentences archive for past editions.

The Vatican prepares to talk about the sexual abuse of minors; Australia is hit with a cyberattack.


“The Protection of Minors in the Church”


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  • The Vatican prepared Monday for a Thursday meeting called “The Protection of Minors in the Church,” which will address the long and destructive history of sexual abuse of children by officials of the church. Pope Francis and presidents from international bishops’ conferences will gather for four days to meet with abuse survivors and increase transparency. [NYT / Jason Horowitz and Elisabetta Povoledo]
  • Boston Archbishop Seán O’Malley, one of the few Americans who advise Pope Francis, says the church still lacks a procedure for how to deal with bishops accused of abuse. And addressing those wrongs is only complicated by the fact that most of the cases still waiting for justice occurred decades ago. [Atlantic / Emma Green]
  • The Vatican took decisive action over the weekend against a cleric it had long shielded: ex-Cardinal Theodore McCarrick. The former archbishop of Washington became the highest-ranking American cardinal to be defrocked after he was found guilty of abusing minors. McCarrick was made cardinal in 2001, despite the church knowing of accusations against him. [Vox / Amanda Sakuma]
  • On the same day the summit starts, an explosive new book by a French journalist will be released, alleging that the Catholic Church is “one of the biggest gay communities in the world.” In the Closet of the Vatican could be the first reliable account of gay members of the clergy, which has some members of the church worried it could distract from the meeting’s goal: addressing the abuse of minors. [CNN / Daniel Burke]
  • Gay Catholic priests have long been terrified to come out, fearing repercussions from the church, which almost always controls a priest’s housing, health insurance, and retirement pension. The Times spoke to two dozen anonymously, who said the environment is only getting worse, with homosexuality increasingly being blamed for clergy abuse of young boys. [NYT / Elizabeth Dias]
  • Relations between the Vatican and US church leaders like O’Malley on abuse cases are becoming more and more tense. O’Malley was excluded from organizing this week’s summit on sex abuse, despite his top position on the commission for the protection of minors. The Vatican thinks American leadership is going too far — even in the practice of publishing accused clergy members’ names. [WSJ / Francis X. Rocca]

Australia reckons with a cyberattack

  • An unidentified foreign government is likely responsible for a hack of Australia’s major political parties and its parliament’s computer network, according to a statement by Prime Minister Scott Morrison on Monday. [NYT / Jamie Tarabay]
  • The Australian government was already investigating an attack on the parliament that occurred early February when it became aware, 10 days later, that the Liberal, Labor, and National parties had also been breached. [Al Jazeera]
  • Australia’s federal elections are coming up in May, but Morrison assured the country there had not been any electoral interference — even as the Australian Cyber Security Centre admitted it did not know what information had been stolen. [BBC News]
  • “A sophisticated state actor” is the culprit, according to Morrison, and many policy experts are pointing to China or Russia. The attack draws attention to the potential meddling (by at least one of those countries) in the 2016 US elections, and how this could be repeated. [TechCrunch / Jon Russell]
  • It’s also possible the responsible organization tried to mimic China to encourage Australian and foreign officials to point fingers. China has denied any role in the attack. [The Verge / Jon Porter]

Miscellaneous

  • Past presidents like Abraham Lincoln and George Washington have earned their place on national monuments — but history has shown that no president was a perfect leader. [NBC News / Ethan Sacks]
  • Public records about the Interior Department could be harder to access if a new rule the department has proposed is adopted. Under the rule, Interior would have more control over what information goes public and could limit how many documents one individual or an organization may view per month. [NPR / Nate Hegyi]
  • President Trump is expected to heighten support for Juan Guaidó as president of Venezuela on Monday. Pressure for President Nicolás Maduro to step down is mounting from the US, which has targeted sanctions against Venezuela’s valuable oil industry. [CNN / Jeremy Diamond]
  • Only one of the current Democratic presidential hopefuls is a heterosexual white man. Others may declare, but they all could have trouble accessing in-demand campaign talent and media attention — not to mention widespread support — as women and other minority candidates appeal to voters. [Politico / Bill Scher]
  • Millions of Nigerians were disappointed on Saturday when a last-minute decision delayed national presidential elections. Without an absentee voting system, many Nigerian citizens who had traveled or planned to travel to their home districts had to change plans when they found out they wouldn’t be voting. Nigeria’s current president, Muhammadu Buhari, is seeking his second consecutive term. [NYT/ Dionne Searcey and Emmanuel Akinwotu]

Verbatim

“What you do to children matters. And they might never forget.” [Excerpt from God Help the Child by Toni Morrison, who turns 88 years old today]


Watch this: American segregation, mapped at day and night

We work in diverse places. We live in segregated ones. [YouTube / Alvin Chang]


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