Trump's former pick to lead FEMA resigns from agency

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By Laura Strickler and Tim Stelloh  with NBC News Politics
Official Portrait - Mr. Jeff Byard
Jeff Byard served as the Associate Administrator for the Office of Response and Recovery (ORR) at the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).   -   Copyright  FEMA

A top official at the Federal Emergency Management Agency announced his resignation Monday, four months after a background investigation derailed his nomination to lead the agency.

In a resignation letter obtained by NBC News, the official, Jeffrey Byard, said that he "had the privilege of leading the finest workforce during the most impactful natural disaster period in our nation's history."

Jeff Byard served as the Associate Administrator for the Office of Response and Recovery (ORR) at the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).
Jeff Byard served as the Associate Administrator for the Office of Response and Recovery (ORR) at the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).FEMA

Byard served as the "senior-most executive over disaster response, recovery, logistics, and field operations" at FEMA and he oversaw the agency's troubled recovery from the 2017 hurricanes in Puerto Rico.

President Donald Trump nominated Byard to run the agency last February, but the White House withdrew his nomination in September after it was held up during an investigation by the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee.

There were 100 natural disasters declared by FEMA in the U.S. in 2019, down from 124 in 2018 and 137 in 2017.

FEMA's press office has not yet responded to a request for comment.

The Trump administration has been plagued with high-level cabinet vacancies. Acount by NBC News last May found that the president's nominees were being confirmed at a record slow pace.

According to an online tracker by the Washington Post, the Administration has 168 key positions that are still without a nominee.

Observers of presidential appointments have attributed the vacancies to persistent turnover within the administration.

"There's still an element of musical chairs — filling one job and creating a vacancy somewhere else," said Max Stier, president and CEO of the Partnership for Public Service, a nonpartisan nonprofit that tracks presidential appointments. That causes "cascading effects. Somebody leaves, others follow. You're creating disruptions throughout the whole organization."