Just ahead of his visit to hurricane-ravaged Texas, President Trump boasted that he had reduced the size of government by failing to fill crucial positions at the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). One of those positions is DHS secretary, which was left vacant after John Kelly left to take up a position as White House chief of staff. Other glaring vacancies include National Hurricane Center director and head of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the parent agency of the National Weather Service.
“We are not looking to fill all of those positions,” Trump tweeted at Fox & Friends on Tuesday, referring to the high level vacancies. “Don’t need many of them – reduce size of government.”
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 29, 2017
Trump’s comments were in response to an earlier Fox & Friends segment, during which conservative radio host and LifeZette editor-in-chief Laura Ingraham had criticized the president’s inaction as dangerous, especially in the wake of a natural disaster like Harvey.
“I think we can all look at these horrific pictures [of Texas flooding], and we can conclude that a federal government does need staff,” Ingraham said. “We see it acutely in need of staff in a situation like this.”
Ingraham added that devastation from Hurricane Harvey, which was downgraded to a tropical storm on Saturday, wasn’t the only area of concern for the sparsely populated DHS and FEMA.
“This isn’t the only crisis we’re facing,” she added. “This is massive…. We’re also facing a huge crisis with North Korea… I know they have a lot on their hands, but we have to have people in place. If there’s a plan to not staff and cause the ultimate shrinkage of government, then let’s hear about that as well. But at homeland security, at FEMA, at the U.S. Trade Representative office, where they’re doing that huge renegotiation of NAFTA… it’s not ideal.”
Trump’s decision to brag about his inability to fill critical roles comes as FEMA officials warn Texans to prepare for a worst case scenario. On Sunday, FEMA administrator Brock Long called Hurricane Harvey “a landmark event” and stated that the agency would likely be engaged in recovery efforts for years.
“We’re setting up and gearing up for the next couple years,” Long said in an interview with CNN’s State of the Union, remarking that Harvey was perhaps even on a different scale than Hurricane Katrina, which left 1,836 dead across parts of the south, including Louisiana and Mississippi. “This is a storm that the United States has not seen yet.”
When pressed on the vacancies at FEMA, Long added, “I don’t even have time to worry about it right now.”
The National Weather Service stated on Sunday that the fallout from Harvey was “unprecedented” and that “all impacts are unknown & beyond anything experienced.” According to experts at the analytics firm CoreLogic, the storm could leave behind some $40 billion in damage. Experts at Imperial Capital believe the total could reach as high as $100 billion in the long-term.
Update: This story was changed to correct the name of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.