In the wake of Hurricane Harvey in Texas and Irma in Florida, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), which is charged with responding to the disaster, is apparently struggling to deal with the massive damage – which recalls the agency’s widely criticized response and massive failures after Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
Today there was a stark reminder of this American tragedy when President Trump’s nominee as the number two FEMA executive – with day to day responsibility to run the agency – suddenly withdrew his nomination after it was revealed that during a previous tenure at the agency, during Katrina, he was investigated for unethical conduct including falsification of records but never convicted of anything.
Daniel A. Craig of Maryland (not the James Bond star) from 2003 until September 2005, during the administration of George W. Bush, was FEMA’s Director of Recovery, a senior position which gave him oversight of disaster recovery efforts. He had previously worked for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
There were investigations by the FBI and the Homeland Security Inspector General into his actions in awarding hundreds of millions of no-bid Katrina contracts for temporary housing and other items in 2005, and his claims made in expense reports and on his time sheets before he left the agency, but it was decided that there was not sufficient evidence of a conflict of interest to prosecute him. The report, which came out in 2011, was never made public.
However, NBC News got a copy of most of the report, and then confronted Craig. His response was to withdraw his nomination before it ever reached the Senate.
“Given the distraction this will cause the Agency in a time when they cannot afford to lose focus,” Craig said in an email to NBC News, “I have withdrawn from my nomination.”
NBC News reported that the White House did not respond to questions about whether it knew Craig had been investigated when it nominated him on July 18. Craig said that he had listed the facts around the investigation in government forms he filled out as part of his application for the high government position.
“The investigation revealed conduct by Craig, specifically falsification of records, that could have become a major stumbling block in his confirmation by the Senate,” reports NBC News.
Here is the NBC News report on Craig and the White House’s failure to respond to questions about what happened.
Craig’s problems began in the aftermath of Katrina when the Inspector General (IG) became concern he had improperly exploited his government position for personal gain. At the same time, Craig had been handing out $100 million contracts to private companies without any competitive bidding he had also been interviewing for jobs with some of those same companies.
Ultimately about $3.2 billion was spent on temporary housing, of which the Homeland Security IG later said at least $46 million was questionable and appeared to be government waste.
In its July press release announcing Craig’s appointment, the Trump administration credited him with working on the recovery of 120 different disasters, emergencies, and fires – including 9/11, the Space Shuttle Columbia explosion and the Florida hurricanes of 2004, but oddly made no mention of his key role in the Katrina recovery in 2005.
— Mass Disturbance (@MassD) September 13, 2017
As a senior official, by law, Craig could not look for or take any job in the private sector that related to his work for FEMA for at least one year. The IG’s report said that he had violated that by having dinner with several FEMA officials, seeking jobs with companies that did Katrina recovery work, and serving at a law firm which acted as a consultant to at least one of the biggest Katrina contractors.
The issue of his falsifying his time card came about because while on a trip for FEMA he took time out to interview for jobs with the same contractors who would get hundreds of millions of government contracts.
The FEMA official who would have to sign off on Craig’s expense report for his trip to Louisiana on behalf of FEMA later said his signature had been forged.
Craig has denied any wrong doing and did file reports on his conflicts of interest, but apparently only after the fact.
Once again the Trump administration has failed to fill a key post at FEMA, at a time much of the top leadership is interim because no one was nominated or appointed to the top jobs in advance of the hurricane season.
Trump has said in the past weeks that under his regime, FEMA is fully functioning and ready to deal with the many problems caused by the multiple hurricanes in a short period. The president who doesn’t believe climate change is a factor in the worst hurricane season in history once again has not done his job and has let down the American people.
The reports out of Texas and Florida are that the rebuilding is going to be a huge job and FEMA is once again apparently not up to the challenge.
That is not a surprise as Trump, again and again, has shown he is not up to the challenge of being president