WASHINGTON, DC – Today, Erik Hooks, the nominee to be Deputy Administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, if confirmed, committed to working with U.S. Senator Rob Portman (R-OH), Ranking Member of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, to improve the Building Resilient Infrastructure and Communities Program or the BRIC Program. The Infrastructure Investment & Jobs Act, which was signed into law on Monday, included Portman’s proposal of an $1 billion investment for the BRIC program that will increase preparedness and help save lives. Portman led efforts to craft and pass the bipartisan infrastructure package in the Senate.
Mr. Hooks also discussed Portman’s bipartisan work in Congress to ensure access to federal security resources for faith-based and nonprofit institutions as they face continual threats and attacks. Last year, Senator Portman and Senator Gary Peters (D-MI), Chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, announced that President Trump signed their bipartisan Protecting Faith-Based and Nonprofit Organizations From Terrorism Act into law. This legislation authorizes $75 million annually for five years, from FYs 2020-2024, for the Department of Homeland Security’s Nonprofit Security Grant Program (NSGP). The NSGP provides grants to faith-based and other nonprofit organizations to help secure their facilities against potential attacks. Senator Portman helped double the amount of funding available for the NSGP in the FY 2021 bipartisan funding agreement that was signed into law late last year.
Excerpts from the questioning can found below and a video can be found here.
Portman: “Great, thank you. Mr. Hooks, I want to talk a little about what FEMA’s role is in terms of resilience, and I noted that as head of the North Carolina’s Department of Public Safety, you’ve had a lot of experience with natural disasters. I mentioned earlier that we’ve recently passed this legislation that was signed into law this week that provides another $1 billion in funding for BRIC, the Building Resilient Infrastructure Communities program. Basically pre-disaster mitigation to ensure that the taxpayer money is better spent by mitigating some of these potential disasters and helping potential victims avoid the devastation of a hurricane, as you’ve had in your state, or tornado or other floods or fires, and so on. Have you worked with BRIC? Do you have any experience with them?”
Erik Hooks, Nominee to be Deputy Administrator at the Federal Emergency Management Agency: “Yes, sir. Thank you, Ranking Member Portman, thank you for the question. Through our very experienced emergency management team in North Carolina, North Carolina has pretty successfully navigated the early rollout of the BRIC program. It is my view that with sustainable funding, the BRIC program can be really transformative to the states and consequently to the nation. BRIC program focuses on a very necessary tool that we should be utilizing more, and that is mitigation. I think it’s well accepted that the investment of every one dollar in mitigation can save us six dollars on the back end. And so we have stood up a robust protocol to address the BRIC funding in North Carolina that not only operates at the state level, but really partners with FEMA. Our fit team that was the first in the nation in North Carolina has been instrumental to our success and also the build out of the Office of Recovery and Resiliency to work with our local communities to help build a more resilient North Carolina and ultimately a more resilient nation.”
Portman: “Good. Well, again, conceptually, it’s a great idea. Relatively new program, as you know, and since 2020, about one and a half million dollars has gone out. So it’s out there. And I’m glad you’re working with it. I hope that, should you be confirmed, that you work with us to even improve the program further, and probably some lessons from North Carolina would be helpful on that. Would you commit to do that?”
Mr. Hooks: “Yes sir, Ranking Member Portman, I certainly commit to work with you and your staff as well as FEMA leadership to address any challenges and to break down any barriers that we have to be successful.”
Portman: “This committee has spent a lot of time on helping to push back against the hateful attacks on religious organizations, other nonprofits. We have this program that we’ve put together called the Nonprofit Security Grant Program, and we’ve made preparedness grants there available over the last several years. This year, we actually doubled the funding to $180 million, split evenly between the urban areas in the states. Are you aware of this program? Have you used it in North Carolina?”
Mr. Hooks: “Yes, sir. Again, thank you for the question, Ranking Member Portman. As the State Administrative Agent, as well as the Homeland Security Advisor, I had sign-off authority on the development of those grants as far as the administration in the state of North Carolina. We were successful in North Carolina at bringing not just the emergency management entity, which the money would flow through from FEMA, but bringing law enforcement and intelligence resources in partnership with those communities so that we can adequately protect faith-based institutions through this process. And again, we have navigated that program pretty successfully in North Carolina.”
Portman: “Well, as you may know, some states have used it more effectively than others. North Carolina has been pretty aggressive in using it. Sounds like my state of Ohio has certainly been successful in figuring out ways to put it to work, so we are glad you support it, and we look forward to working with you on ensuring that the funding we’re providing is spent most effectively.
“With regard to the Controller position, Ms. Blatchford, we talked about this in person, so you know where I’m coming from. You have a great deal of expertise and experience in the housing sector as an example, but you’re not up for HUD Secretary, you’re up for another job, which again is one that is just a hardcore financial management auditing accounting job. I mentioned earlier, the U.S. Code and what it requires this job to have and demonstrated ability and practical experience in accounting, financial management and financial systems, extensive practical experience in financial management and large governmental or business entities. I know you don’t have a CPA, but regarding accounting, do you have any practical experience as this calls for or ability in accounting?”
Laurel Blatchford, Nominee to be Controller in the Office of Federal Financial Management at the Office of Management and Budget: “Thank you very much for that question, Ranking Member Portman, and thank you for the conversation yesterday. I’m glad to continue that conversation today. I don’t have a training in accounting, but I would just pull back a bit to say a couple of things about why I do think that I’m qualified for this role. First, as an experienced nonprofit and government leader of large teams, I have, by definition and by necessity, deeply involved myself in financial management. Everything from budget development and execution, financial management of systems, enterprise risk management, auditing, and so just have learned to the point that you made about practical experience, have learned that I can deeply engage myself in those details as needed. But I also have learned to rely on the expertise of those around me. I think most leaders know that you don’t have every technical skill in your toolkit, but often you can rely on your team for the areas that you might not have or that you need to complement. And everything I’ve heard about the OMB and OFFM teams is that they’re extraordinary and would be supportive in that particular area. I would also say, I think this is a question about what we need as a country right now. And I think from my perspective I would bring the strategic vision and the ability to support and work with the technical experts on my team, but really drawing on the expertise and the experience I’ve had of navigating the inputs from accounting, the inputs from financial management to make the right decisions for the organization that I’m working for. So look forward to, if confirmed, working with you to make sure that we’re really addressing all of those concerns.”
Portman: “Well, again, I just have a hard time squaring what the requirements are. And again, having known that position, and it’s true that as a leader, you rely on others. But the reason the statute was written that way and knowing the job, having the expertise and experience is really important for the leader. I’m not surprising you here because I talked about this on the phone, but can you explain the Federal Credit Reform Act and how you see this impacting how various federal credit programs calculate their leverage?”
Ms. Blatchford: “So it’s my understanding that the Federal Credit Reform Act is a set of decisions in terms of current and proposed programs, that evaluation is made by the Budget Review Division within OMB that sits outside of OFFM, but as we discussed yesterday, I understand where you’re coming from on this larger question and had some experience working on this when I was at HUD with the FHA balance sheet. So would look forward, if confirmed, to working with you, the BRD team, and others at OMB to address any concerns you might have about current or future programs as it relates to that reform act.”
Portman: “Thank you. My time has expired. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.”