Published 7:21 PM EDT Sep 17, 2018
WASHINGTON – A top Republican lawmaker demanded FEMA Administrator Brock Long turn over documents about his alleged personal use of a government vehicle and his requirement that aides ride with him on trips to his North Carolina home.
The request by Rep. Trey Gowdy, chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, comes as the Department of Homeland Security's Office of Inspector General is probing Long's conduct.
A report in the Wall Street Journal Monday said the case was being referred to federal prosecutors for possible criminal charges.
Gowdy of South Carolina sent a two-page letter Monday to Long asking him for records related to:
• His use of a government-owned or government-leased vehicle for personal trips to his home in Hickory, North Carolina, where his immediate family lives. Hickory is about 400 miles from the nation's capital.
• Agency policies relating to the use of such vehicles by political appointees, such as Long.
• Referring or relating to Federal Emergency Management Agency employees being "tasked with accompanying you on trips to and from North Carolina."
Gowdy's letter requests the information no later than 5 p.m. Oct. 1.
" ... Official travel on the part of federal employees must be 'by the most expeditious means of transportation practicable' and 'commensurate with nature and purpose of the "employee's) duties'," Gowdy wrote to Long citing federal law. "This does not include using government-owned or government-leased vehicles for exclusively personal reasons."
Tyler Houlton, a spokesman for the Department of Homeland Security, declined to comment on the report. A spokeswoman for DHS Acting Inspector General John Kelly also declined to comment. FEMA is a DHS agency.
Gowdy's request comes as FEMA is responding to Hurricane Florence, a catastrophic storm that's been pounding the Carolinas for days with heavy rains and flooding.
The Inspector General's probe that led to Gowdy's letter was first reported by Politico Thursday.
Homeland Security released a statement from Long Monday afternoon in which he said he was paying little attention to the investigation.
“I am fully focused on those impacted by Hurricane Florence," Long said in the statement. "I am looking forward to meeting with Governor Cooper tomorrow and discussing with him how the federal government can best help him meet his response and recovery needs.”
Long reportedly began having a government driver take him home since he took control of FEMA last year. Aides that went with him were put up in hotels at taxpayers' expense, one official told Politico.
Long addressed the investigation last week telling reporters, "Every day we work closely with the OIG and the (Government Accountability Office)" and "we'll continue to fully cooperate with any investigation that moves forward."
"I would never intentionally run a program incorrectly," he continued. "If we made mistakes with the way a program was run, then we’ll work with OIG to get this corrected. Doing something unethical is not part of my DNA and it’s not part of my track record in my whole entire career."
News reports indicated that Long's travel was already a source of tension between him and Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen. Nielsen confronted Long about the issue at a meeting in late August, according to the Politico report.
Nielsen has downplayed any rift. On Sunday, she tweeted her thanks to Long "and the dedicated men and women (of FEMA) for all your efforts to protect neighbors!"