One of these 5 officials
could be Biden's FEMA chief
Frank, E&E News reporter
Published: Wednesday, December 16,
Florida Division of
Emergency Management Director Jared Moskowitz is among a handful of people
seeking to lead the Federal Emergency Management Agency under
President-elect Joe Biden. Monroe County BOCC/Flickr
The names of five prominent emergency
management officials are circulating as possible candidates to run the
Federal Emergency Management Agency in the incoming Biden administration,
which is facing pressure to fill the slot quickly.
Sources close to FEMA tell E&E News that
the five officials include Deanne Criswell, commissioner of the New York
City Emergency Management Department, and James Featherstone, a longtime
emergency management leader in Los Angeles. Criswell, who has held senior
positions at FEMA, would be the first woman to lead the agency since its
creation in 1979. Featherstone would be the first Black FEMA administrator
since the late 1980s.
The Biden administration has vowed to create
a diverse Cabinet, and FEMA is under pressure to address diversity issues
following a recent internal report that found widespread racial and sexual
harassment and discrimination in the agency.
The other potential candidates are Mark
Ghilarducci, director of the California Governor's Office of Emergency
Services; Jared Moskowitz, director of the Florida Division of Emergency
Management; and Michael Sprayberry, executive director of the North
Carolina Division of Emergency Management.
Ghilarducci worked closely this year with
Vice President-elect Kamala Harris, a Democratic senator from California,
on the state's record-setting wildfires and has been outspoken in linking
the wildfires to climate change.
"All of them are qualified, and they all
have the experience necessary to do the job," a former senior FEMA
The International Association of Emergency
Managers, which represents local emergency agencies, has urged the Biden
administration to fill the job quickly instead of waiting months after
inauguration as previous incoming administrations have done. FEMA's current
administrator, Peter Gaynor, will leave office with the Trump
"Changing administrators in the middle
of the greatest catastrophe to hit our country at least since World War II
is a daunting thought," association President Judson Freed said in an
interview. "The sooner we can know who we're going to be working with
so we're not waiting until late spring or summer, the better."
Moskowitz has acknowledged his interest in
the FEMA job, telling a Florida news outlet in November that "if the
call came, I would answer the phone."
Sprayberry told E&E News in a statement
that he is focusing on North Carolina's pandemic response and added,
"I will say it would be an honor to be considered for a position
within the Biden administration."
Criswell said in a statement that she is
"committed to leading the NYC Emergency Management Department during
these unprecedented times" and is "focused on serving the people
of New York City."
Ghilarducci's office did not respond to a
request for comment, and Featherstone could not be reached.
Here is a look at the possible candidates.
Criswell was named head of New York City's
Emergency Management Department in June 2019 by Mayor Bill de Blasio, a
Democrat, who hired her from the Cadmus Group consulting firm.
Criswell worked at FEMA from 2011 to 2017 and
led one of the agency teams that handle disaster response and recovery.
Before joining FEMA, she was emergency manager in Aurora, Colo., a city of
nearly 400,000 people near Denver.
In New York City, Criswell has warned about
climate change triggering flooding in the city.
"Sea rise is definitely a concern, and
sea levels in New York City right now have risen about a foot since
1900," Criswell told the "Disaster Zone" podcast in October.
"Our current climate change projections show they could rise another
30 inches by 2050. This is a big concern for us."
"What we're seeing is high sea levels
are causing flooding on what you would consider a sunny day," Criswell
told podcast host Eric Holdeman.
In November 2019, Criswell told a security
conference that "climate change, social and economic inequity, aging
infrastructure, reliance on technology, cyber threats and domestic
terrorism" are exacerbating disasters, according to the Brooklyn Daily Eagle.
"She would check a lot of the boxes.
She's been a local emergency manager, worked for FEMA, been on the front
lines of COVID activity, is well-respected by her peers. And she's a
woman," a former FEMA senior official said.
Featherstone spent 30 years working in public
safety in Los Angeles, starting in the city's fire department in 1986 and
working his way up to become general manager of the city's Emergency
Management Department. Retiring in 2016, he became CEO of the Los Angeles
Homeland Security Advisory Council, where he worked with the public and
private sectors to modernize emergency preparedness, until August.
As interim fire chief in Los Angeles in
2013-14, Featherstone ran an agency that had faced allegations of discrimination
against minorities and had paid millions of dollars to settle
"I'm certainly sensitive to
diversity," Featherstone said in a 2014 interview with the Los Angeles Times. "Have I experienced
Featherstone recently was chairman of a
National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine committee that
published a report in January on strengthening supply chains to withstand
major disasters. The committee's report, written for FEMA, found that an influx
of emergency supplies after a major disaster can have the unintended
consequence of delaying an area's recovery and should be scaled back.
"The most effective way to deliver the
needed supplies to a disaster-impacted area is by re-establishing pre-disaster
supply chains," according to the report, which FEMA requested after
experiencing supply problems during the devastating 2017 hurricane season.
Featherstone has served as a senior fellow at
Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government and was an adjunct
instructor at Texas A&M's National Emergency Response and Recovery
Ghilarducci has been a senior official in
California emergency management since 2000 and previously was a federal
coordinating officer at FEMA in the Clinton administration.
In recent years, as California has faced some
of the largest and most destructive wildfires in state history, Ghilarducci
has been outspoken about climate change and a frequent witness at hearings
In June 2019, Ghilarducci told the House
Oversight and Reform Committee, "California has been severely impacted
by the effects of climate change, which have manifested in the form of tree
mortality, floods, severe storms, debris flows and multiple major wildfires."
Wildfire season is growing longer and fires
are intensifying, Ghilarducci testified, because of "warmer
temperatures, variable snowpack and earlier snowmelt caused by climate
In an August 2019 hearing before the same
committee, Ghilarducci called climate change "a force multiplier when
it comes to wildfires and their destruction" and said the wildfire
burn area in California would increase 77% by 2100.
Ghilarducci had "frequent
discussions" with Vice President-elect Harris in recent months about
how to protect California residents from wildfires and COVID-19, according
to a statement from Harris' Senate office in September.
At the August 2019 hearing, Ghilarducci
questioned a new FEMA policy that made it harder for disaster survivors in
large states such as California to get emergency aid from FEMA.
Moskowitz has the least experience in
emergency management of the five possible FEMA candidates. He's been in
charge of Florida's Division of Emergency Management since January 2019,
when newly elected Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis named him to the position.
The appointment got attention in Florida
because DeSantis is a Republican and Moskowitz is a Democrat who at the
time of his appointment represented Broward County in the Florida House of
Representatives, a part-time job. He worked on Barack Obama's presidential
campaign in 2008. Moskowitz's full-time job was general counsel at AshBritt
Environmental, a Florida company with contracts to clean up hurricane
When he appointed Moskowitz, DeSantis called
him a "high octane incumbent" and "an effective Democratic
voice in the Republican-dominated Legislature," according to the South
Florida Sun Sentinel.
"We have a rich history of Democrats and
Republicans coming together in emergency management," Moskowitz told
the Sun Sentinel in June. "When a hurricane
hits, it doesn't pick a Republican house or a Democratic house. This
pandemic doesn't pick whether you watch Fox or MSNBC in how it affects
Moskowitz was aggressive in the spring at
lining up hotels to accommodate hurricane evacuees so they would not have
to stay in traditional "congregate" shelters, where the
coronavirus might be easily spread.
One emergency management senior official told
E&E News that Moskowitz's candidacy for the FEMA job could be hurt by
his association with DeSantis, a strong Trump supporter who was aggressive
about keeping Florida schools and businesses open during the pandemic.
Sprayberry has run the North Carolina
Division of Emergency Management since 2013, when he was appointed by
then-Gov. Pat McCrory, a Republican, after working in the state agency for
eight years. Sprayberry has continued to serve under North Carolina's
incumbent governor, Democrat Roy Cooper.
Sprayberry is well-regarded by other
emergency mangers for his experience and calm demeanor during disasters.
"He is a top-notch emergency manager. He
never overreacts to bad news and ... takes ownership of the job that he's
been appointed to do," former FEMA Administrator Brock Long told The Charlotte Observer in May. "I've
always found Mike Sprayberry to be a humble diplomat by nature."
The Raleigh News & Observer wrote
in May that Sprayberry "fits a familiar trope, the uncle who knows
where the good barbecue is on the way to the beach — and has very strong
opinions about it — but also the one who answers the phone immediately and
shows up first to help when your car gets stuck in the mud."
"He's nonpolitical and doesn't really
give a damn whether Republicans or Democrats are in power," Mark
Goodman, a local emergency manager, told the Raleigh newspaper. "He
does what is best for the people of North Carolina. That's the key. It's
hard to find people like that."
Sprayberry is a member of FEMA's National
Advisory Council and was president of the National Emergency Management
Association in 2017-18.
Sprayberry last year voiced opposition to
FEMA's plans, which were then under consideration, to slash disaster aid
and make it harder to states to qualify for disaster aid. FEMA formally
proposed the idea on Monday.
"I wouldn't support it because what that
does is put the onus back on the states" for disaster recovery,
Sprayberry told E&E News in October 2019.
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