The president who doesn’t believe climate change is a real problem now is facing a crisis over his funding of the agency that deals with the effect of climate change.
Trump’s budget cuts have reflected his refusal to believe the science behind climate change, and his failure to staff up for what was to come. That is coming home to roost.
When Trump went to Houston, Texas in August and praised FEMA’s response to the historic devastation of Hurricane Harvey, he was simultaneously working to cut the government’s emergency agency’s funding so he could move a billion dollars to pay for the wall he wants on the Mexican border.
Now, in the wake of an unprecedented year of hurricanes, earthquakes, forest fires and other natural disasters, FEMA is running so short of money that it is telling at least 500 of its top managers that they may have to return overtime pay they earned putting in long hours to deal with all of the emergencies.
— House Republicans (@HouseGOP) September 23, 2011
Congress has granted some emergency funding but it was also the source of legislation in past years that caps how much overtime pay FEMA employees can earn unless granted a special waiver.
Here is how FEMA puts it in classic bureaucratic-speak.
“This year’s unprecedented hurricane season led to a record-setting length of national activation,” FEMA said in a statement. “Due to the extended work hours involved in supporting disaster recovery and response efforts for multiple storms, some employees have been affected by the annual maximum earnings limitation.”
FEMA administrator Brock Long told the House Appropriations subcommittee on November 30 that his staff was “tapped out” following the record number of storms, fires, and other problems.
There are about 500 employees who are being warned they may have to pay back part of their pay after putting in long hours, taking difficult trips and dealing with the effects and after effects of numerous natural disasters. Almost all on the upper end of FEMA’s pay scale.
Not only does it seem unfair, but asking for the money back – or making employees work it off – could have an effect n their willingness to jump the next time disaster hits.
45 is so short sighted in many areas-/ cutting FEMA funds is one. They will run out of money quickly because of Harvey alone
— resistancegramma (@elliesgramma) August 28, 2017
A female employee of FEMA told Bloomberg News that “Billing staff or docking pay could reduce the willingness of FEMA employees or other Homeland Security staff to sign up for deployments in the future.”
By deployments, she means sending top managers on short notice to lead the recovery efforts in places like Texas, Florida, California and Puerto Rico, all hard hit this year.
Bloomberg reported that an email to the FEMA staff on November 2 provided an example of the impact on Washington, D.C.-based employees. If that worker makes $153,730 per year in salary, the Congressional cap on overtime is $7,636.40.
That means in the middle of trying to save lives in a disaster zone, with everyone clamoring for FEMA to do the job, those managers are supposed to just stop working because Congress has capped their compensation.
There is also a cap on how much overtime an employee can earn in any two week period, but FEMA has the right to grant a waiver as Homeland Security (which oversees FEMA) did this year in the wake of Hurrican Harvey for some employees.
There is also a law that grants the agency discretion to waive the requirement that a certain employee must return overtime pay above the cap. The employee must request the waiver and the government must decide if the collection, per Bloomberg, “would be against equity and good conscience and not in the best interests of the United States.”
FEMA so far has not said if it would grant such waivers.
Donald Devine, a former director of OPM under President Reagan, said it was always a mistake for Congress to take the authority to determine pay caps away from agencies.
“Unfortunately, Congress gets frustrated about something, they usually try to find some blunt instrument way to do something.”
— Mark Smith (@SisBoomBahaha) September 6, 2017
Trump has taken a similar “blunt instrument” approach with his 2018 fiscal budget, which still includes major cuts for FEMA. That means everytime there is an unexpectedly large emergency the president will have to return to Congress for additional funding.
That is not an efficient or reliable way to run the government – and a danger to those in need as Puerto Rico has discovered.
Trump's budget cuts are cruel and short-sighted, military build-up and building a ludicrous wall results in cutting much-needed services.
— Elizabeth West (@Limeylizzie) March 16, 2017
Trump loves the optics of being in Texas, Florida or Puerto Rico, declaring the government will help, save everyone and support rebuilding efforts, but in reality, he takes a callous, heartless, cold-blooded approach to funding FEMA’s efforts.
When Trump promises all the help necessary amidst a disaster, in reality, it may play well on TV but that really is the “fake news.