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Former FEMA Official Under Investigation For Fostering Culture Of Sexual Harassment

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

The former personnel chief for the Federal Emergency Management Agency is accused of hiring his friends and frat brothers and then hiring women whom his friends could pursue at work for sexual relationships. This alleged harassment and misconduct is reported to have gone on for years at the agency, and the head of FEMA says some of it could rise to the level of criminal activity. The Washington Post's Lisa Rein broke this story today, and she covers the federal government for the Post. She joins us now. Thanks for being with us.

LISA REIN: Thanks, Ailsa.

CHANG: So tell us a little more about this former personnel chief. Who is he?

REIN: So his name is Corey Coleman. He's in his mid-40s. He came to FEMA from the Secret Service where he had served in other capacity as an HR chief in the IT department. And the FEMA interview - they did an internal investigation over six months led by a team appointed by Brock Long, who is a Trump appointee, who has been at FEMA for only about 13, 14 months. They interviewed more than 70 people, took sworn statements for - from, I think, something like 90 people - former and current employees - who described a toxic, toxic atmosphere in this HR department where Mr. Coleman was not only having relationships with some of his subordinates but, as you described in your introduction, was hiring his frat brothers and friends, as well as women he met online on match.com, as well as in bars to come work for the agency - some of these people were not qualified - promoting them and trying to put the women in places where the men could have relationships - pursue relationships with them.

CHANG: Wow. And I understand that Coleman is no longer at FEMA. He left a couple - two, three years ago?

REIN: No, he actually left much more recently.

CHANG: Oh.

REIN: He resigned on June 18, and that was actually...

CHANG: Of this year? OK.

REIN: Yes.

CHANG: OK.

REIN: Days before, he was scheduled to be interviewed by the internal investigators who were conducting this probe. And the FEMA staff say that there was clearly a reason why he left, and that's it. We were unsuccessful or have been thus far in reaching Mr. Coleman.

CHANG: OK.

REIN: We really hope to hear from him or a lawyer of his.

CHANG: Now, how did you stumble upon all of these - all these allegations against Coleman?

REIN: That's right. So Brock Long actually invited us to come in this morning - early - to talk about this investigation. And it impressed me because Long very much is trying to get out ahead of this. He - this has consumed much of his time at FEMA and the time he's been there, along with a myriad - you know, hurricanes and other natural disasters.

CHANG: Right.

REIN: And what we've seen in the Me Too era is that the Trump administration is very much trying to get ahead of these things and say that they very much take sexual misconduct seriously. And so Mr. Long actually outlined much of this for us, as well as his colleagues at FEMA.

CHANG: And I understand that he said these problems extend far beyond Corey Coleman. What does he mean by that? How expansive is this culture?

REIN: Right. So what he is describing - and I should say the investigation is very much ongoing. They have referred what they believe are criminal cases of potential sexual assault to the inspector general's office for the Department of Homeland Security, which oversees FEMA. But what Long is describing is the behavior that these 90-some odd people they have sworn statements from and 75 people they interviewed - have described behavior by many of the employees who the men who Brock - sorry - who Mr. Coleman hired. And their behavior is really what they're investigating as well as the...

CHANG: OK.

REIN: ...What are very concerning hiring practices.

CHANG: All right. That's The Washington Post's Lisa Rein who reports today that the personnel chief of FEMA resigned just weeks ago under investigation for widespread allegations of sexual harassment. Thank you very much.

REIN: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF EMANCIPATOR'S "RAPPAHANNOCK") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.