As storm nears, FEMA chief says he will cooperate with separate probe

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The head of FEMA said he would never intentionally break government rules following a report that his use of official vehicles was under scrutiny, but that right now, he was focused on a major hurricane approaching the U.S. Southeast coast.

Brock Long, who directs the Federal Emergency Management Agency, said he was “very aware” of a media report published earlier on Thursday regarding his travel habits, and that the agency would cooperate with any investigations.

Politico, citing three people familiar with the matter, said the Department of Homeland Security‘s Office of Inspector General (OIG) was probing Long’s use of official vehicles to travel between Washington and his home in North Carolina during his time as FEMA director.

“I would never intentionally run a program incorrectly. Bottom line is, if we made mistakes in the way a program is run, we’ll work with the OIG to get those corrected. Doing something unethical is not in my DNA, it is not part of my track record,” Long told reporters at a briefing on the storm.

FEMA, which coordinates the government’s response to disasters, was bracing for Hurricane Florence to make landfall on Friday as the storm approached the Carolinas, threatening to bring days of pounding surf, torrential rain and severe flooding.

“We’ll continue to fully cooperate with any investigation that goes on … right now I am 100 pct focused” on Florence, Long said. “That’s exactly where our attention needs to be.”

Politico said Long began using a staff driver for his trips home from Washington when his term began last year, and that aides also traveled with him at taxpayer expense. It said the director now drives himself or flies back to the state.

In a statement, FEMA Director of External Affairs Jessica Nalepa referred any questions about the reported investigation to the DHS inspector general’s office, and said the disaster agency cooperated with all such investigations.

Representatives for the inspector general and the White House did not respond to requests for comment.

Long is the latest Trump appointee to face scrutiny over his use of government resources.

Former Environmental Protection Agency chief Scott Pruitt resigned in July amid a series of spending and other ethics-related controversies, and former health secretary, Tom Price, resigned in 2017 following revelations of his use of costly private planes for government business. U.S. government watchdogs have also chastised Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke over his spending.

(Reporting by Susan Heavey; additional reporting by Roberta Rampton; Editing by Bernadette Baum)