With Hurricane Florence looming, Trump defends the performance of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) in 2017 hurricanes. He praises his own administration’s FEMA work for hurricanes last year in Puerto Rico, Houston and elsewhere. Notably, he claims that for Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico, his administration did “an unappreciated great job.”
Trump called FEMA’s work on Hurricane Maria “an unsung success” and added “I actually think it was one of the best jobs that’s ever been done with respect to what this is all about.”
The Government Accountability Office (GAO) conducted an investigation whose report issued this month – September 2018 — debunks Trump’s false praise for his own administration. GAO found that “FEMA’s available workforce was overwhelmed by the response needs.” FEMA’s staff, GAO found, “were not physically able to handle” the work: It sounds like Trump did not have them get in shape.
A large problem was with key FEMA contractors, namely, those who remove the debris left by the disaster. “[T]he limited number of debris removal contractors providing such services resulted in much of the difficulty related to debris removal experienced after the 2017 hurricanes.”
After the hurricanes, Trump’s FEMA fell down on the job with housing repair, particularly multifamily leased housing, such as apartments. “FEMA repairs existing multi-family housing units, such as apartments . . . [fell short] due to a lack of available resources.”
Centrally, Trump’s FEMA had an inadequate workforce, not surprising considering Trump’s antagonism toward the federal civil service. “FEMA’s workforce allocations and plans were overwhelmed by the 2017 disaster response needs . . . . FEMA faced a staff shortage of more than 30 percent as of September 1, 2017.”
Bluntly, “FEMA officials [blamed] low pay and difficulty maintaining work-life balance . . . . the hiring process is lengthy and the pay is not competitive.”
FEMA had a new process for delivering help. But “According to officials from three of the eight jurisdictions [receiving FEMA disaster aid], FEMA’s process and decision-making is not clear and this is further complicated by the inability of FEMA staff to fully articulate the new process, due in part to limited training.”
It is normal for Trump to praise his administration’s accomplishments. Perhaps sometimes, this happens on a subject that is secondary in importance. But with Hurricane Florence bearing down on the Southeast, hurricane relief is not secondary. We may come to wish that Trump had blew his own horn less and improved his administration’s performance more.