Washington, D.C. (Mar. 20, 2020)— Today, Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Administrator Peter T. Gaynor provided a telephone briefing to Members of the Committee on Oversight and Reform on the Administration’s preparation for, and response to, the coronavirus crisis. Administrator Gaynor was accompanied during the briefing by Keith Turi, the Assistant Administrator of FEMA’s Recovery Directorate.
“I want to thank FEMA Administrator Gaynor for joining us. I know this is an incredibly busy time for him and his team, and we appreciate him making himself available.” said Chairwoman Carolyn Maloney on today’s call. “We were very disappointed that FEMA chose not to appear at our hearing last week. FEMA missed an opportunity to inform us about its planning for this pandemic. In addition, there are Members on both sides of the aisle who have serious questions about the planning and response to this crisis. I believe very strongly that fielding these tough questions will make FEMA’s response even stronger.”
FEMA provided the following information during the briefing:
- “Major Disaster” Declaration “Imminent” for New York: When pressed by Chairwoman Maloney when President Donald Trump would finally approve a request from Governor Andrew Cuomo to declare a “major disaster” in New York to fully mobilize the federal response to the crisis, Administrator Gaynor reported that he “expects to have a decision imminently” and likely “within less than 24 hours.” If approved, this declaration would authorize FEMA to provide a range of individual assistance to those affected by the coronavirus crisis in New York.
- Shortage of Tests and Personal Protective Equipment: When asked by several Committee Members about severe shortages in test kits and personal protective equipment around the country, Administrator Gaynor and his staff explained that FEMA is now working to develop a system to track the supply chain and availability of critical supplies. However, he cautioned that FEMA has only been “at this for 48 hours.” Administrator Gaynor also noted that while FEMA has started to draw from the Strategic National Stockpile to begin supplying healthcare professionals, reports indicate the Stockpile may be insufficient to address the coronavirus pandemic.
- FEMA Not Fully Engaged Until This Week: Despite FEMA officials’ claims that the agency has been responding to the coronavirus outbreak since January, Administrator Gaynor was not invited to the join the White House coronavirus task force until “earlier this week” and FEMA did not host its first “interagency synchronization call” until today.
Administrator Gaynor committed to providing additional information in response to Committee Members’ questions and to providing future briefings as the response continues.
On February 25, 2020, the Subcommittee on National Security invited FEMA to testify at a hearing on the coronavirus crisis originally scheduled for March 4, 2020.
FEMA declined to participate, asserting that “the Agency does not feel as if there is much that we would be able to testify to.”
The full Committee held a hearing—without FEMA—on the federal government’s preparedness and response to the coronavirus on March 11 and March 12, 2020.
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