FEMA Administrator Brock Long is calling for greater private-sector disaster response after last year’s hurricane damage to Puerto Rico, such as this road collapse in Barranquitas, photographed in October 2017. (PHOTO ILLUSTRATION: Getty Images photos by Joe Raedle, left, and Chip Somodevilla.)
By Jonathan Larsen
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is calling for greater involvement by the private sector in disaster preparedness and response–which could directly profit the agency’s former employer, federal documents show.
In July, FEMA Administrator William “Brock” Long signed off on an agency report assessing its performance during the 2017 hurricane season. As TYT previously reported, the report drew attention for accepting blame–but not for its suggested remedy of leaning more heavily on local governments and private contractors.
In his letter prefacing the report, Long writes, “As a nation, closer partnerships with the private sector are crucial in providing commodities and support to survivors.” Such partnerships stand to benefit not just the private sector broadly, but also, potentially, Long’s former employer.
For more than six years, up until his confirmation by the Senate in June 2017, Long served as an executive vice president at Hagerty Consulting, a disaster preparedness firm. Hagerty Consulting clients include the kinds of local governments that FEMA suggests should form partnerships with the private sector.
Asked about the possibility of benefiting from Long’s policy recommendations, Hagerty Consulting spokesperson Matt Hochstein told TYT the company “disagrees with your inference that we, as an organization, have benefited from Brock Long being appointed as FEMA Administrator.”
Regarding potential future benefits for the private sector, Hochstein said, “While this is one point of view, our point of view is that local emergency management is the first line of defense in a disaster… What the FEMA Administrator is suggesting is that the emergency management community utilize the private sector to reduce the time it takes to help disaster survivors. He’s also suggesting that in a catastrophic event, no one organization will have the capability to meet the entire need, and thus, engaging the private sector and their resources before the event will reduce response times and the dependency on the Federal government to address all capability gaps presented by disasters.”
FEMA Private Sector Deputy Director Lea Crager told TYT, “The idea of public-private partnerships isn’t new to the agency or the emergency management community.”
She pointed to FEMA’s Private Sector office, created by the 2006 Post-Katrina Emergency Reform Act, “to enhance communication and collaboration between the private sector and the agency to help support capabilities and enhance national preparedness.” Crager also cited similar measures undertaken later, during the Obama Administration.
According to the Hagerty Consulting website, the company currently has an ongoing federal contract, as well as local government contracts in states including Florida, California, Rhode Island, Texas, and Virginia.
Long’s disclosure form last year listed additional Hagerty Consulting contracts with local government entities in Illinois, Massachusetts, New York, Georgia, and South Carolina.
Crager said that, “FEMA provides new employees with ethics training that covers conflict of interest laws and regulations. In certain circumstances, such as the case of Administrator Long, employees may also complete a recusal memo, and the agency can put screening arrangements in place to ensure those matters covered do not come before the employee.”
Hochstein said, “All contract awards with FEMA are publicly available, and Hagerty Consulting has not been awarded any prime contracts with FEMA since Brock Long was appointed as Administrator. Hagerty Consulting completely severed ties with Brock upon his appointment and have maintained that distance in a professional and ethical manner.”
According to Long’s disclosure forms, Hagerty paid him a pro-rated performance bonus of $37,478.45 upon his departure.
The company has been involved in response to some of the nation’s worst national disasters. In 2010, a Louisiana recovery official said he was forced out of his job in New Orleans after writing an internal memo warning that the city would run out of rebuilding money due to increased payments to private contractors. The memo said the cost of the city’s Hagerty Consulting contract increased from nearly $300 thousand to $2.3 million.
This January, Hagerty Consulting registered to open an office in Puerto Rico, according to public records. Hochstein told TYT that it has no physical presence on the island. “Hagerty has begun the registration and tax processes in PR in case we decide to pursue / take on work for the people of Puerto Rico,” Hochstein said.
A new study found that Hurricane Maria killed 1,139 people in Puerto Rico, more than ten times the official death toll. To pay off billions in debt to Wall Street, Puerto Rico has begun privatizing services ranging from education to electricity. The island’s power grid has not yet been fully repaired. The 2018 hurricane season is forecast to last through Nov. 30.
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