WASHINGTON – Senator Maggie Hassan, the top Democrat on the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Subcommittee on Federal Spending Oversight and Emergency Management, questioned Peter Gaynor on his nomination to be Administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). Mr. Gaynor currently serves as Acting FEMA Administrator.

Senator Hassan opened the hearing by highlighting the need to address climate change, and the increasingly important role that FEMA will play as extreme weather conditions become more and more common.

“The science definitively shows for instance that climate change is causing more intense weather events with ever-increasing frequency,” Senator Hassan said. “If FEMA ignores these realities, then it does so at the peril of the Americans who depend on the agency for mitigating and recovering from extreme natural disasters. We only have to look to the 2017 hurricane season—when major disasters concurrently struck Puerto Rico, Texas, Florida, and California and overwhelmed FEMA’s capabilities—to give us a view of the future of effects of global climate change on U.S. safety and security.”

Senator Hassan also emphasized FEMA’s role in combating ransomware attacks that have been affecting key services at schools, hospitals, municipalities, county governments and state agencies across the country. “FEMA must work with its fellow agencies—including the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency—in order to help state and local governments prevent and recover from these cyberattacks. The next Administrator must make this cooperation and coordination a key priority.”

Lastly in her opening remarks, the Senator touched on the toxic culture of sexual harassment and misconduct at FEMA stating, “Finally, FEMA must get its own house in order. Eighteen months ago, then-Administrator Long announced that sexual harassment at FEMA was a ‘systemic problem going on for years’ and that senior officials at FEMA must work towards ‘the eradication of this cancer.’ Yet, only now is FEMA’s key management tool for addressing sexual harassment in the workplace—the Office of Professional Responsibility—being fully stood up and staffed.”

In her questioning, Senator Hassan asked Mr. Gaynor about what steps FEMA is taking to mitigate the impact of cyberattacks on state and local governments. The Senator’s questioning comes after a meeting with FEMA’s Director of the National Exercise Division, Mr. Chad Gorman, who briefed the Senator on FEMA’s 2020 National Level Exercise, which will include a cybersecurity component.  

“Not a week that goes by that we don’t have a conversation with our partners at CISA [Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency],” Mr. Gaynor said. “I personally have a close relationship with the director, and they are part of our national response when it comes to disasters. We wrote the National Response Framework and [CISA] is prominently in there. And we have a solid relationship and cyber is one of the top priorities for FEMA and for the Department.”

As part of her efforts to protect all levels of government from cyberattacks, Senator Hassan recently sent a letter to the U.S. Government Accountability Office to review how the federal government is assisting state and local governments in protecting their networks from the threat of ransomware and in responding to ransomware incidents. The U.S. Senate recently passed bipartisan legislation introduced by Senator Hassan and Rob Portman (R-OH) to bolster cybersecurity in the public and private sector. Senator Hassan also joined in introducing the bipartisan Advancing Cybersecurity Continuing Diagnostics and Mitigation Act, which would update and improve federal agencies’ cybersecurity, and make additional cybersecurity resources available to state and local governments. Last year, the President signed two bipartisan bills from Senator Hassan and Rob Portman (R-OH) to help strengthen cyber defenses at the Department of Homeland Security.