The House Oversight and Accountability Committee sent a letter to FEMA’s top administrator asking questions about its response to the Maui wildfires.

WASHINGTON — Quick access to disaster relief aid. The availability of temporary housing. And $1,000 a night hotel rooms.

These are just a few of the topics that Republicans on the House Oversight and Accountability Committee have concerns about when it comes to monitoring the federal government’s response to the Aug. 8 wildfires on Maui that left at least 115 people dead in Lahaina and thousands more homeless.

On Friday, the committee, led by Chairman James Comer of Kentucky, sent a letter to FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell outlining a series of questions he and other Republicans have about her agency’s actions following the disaster.

The GOP-led House Oversight and Accountability Committee is starting to ramp up its investigation into the Maui wildfires. (Nick Grube/Civil Beat/2022)

Comer had announced last month that his committee would be investigating the federal government’s response to the wildfires.

Friday’s letter offers the first glimpse into what that GOP-led investigation might actually entail.

A number of the questions focused on whether local and state officials have had any difficulties getting access to federal aid and whether other agencies have provided sufficient support during the crisis.

But access to housing appears to be a key concern, especially for an island state where supply is already limited.

The letter focused on a series of problems that arose during FEMA’s response to Hurricane Ian in Florida in 2022 that killed nearly 150 people.

Numerous homes were destroyed, the letter states, and there were challenges in providing trailers to survivors for temporary housing in the immediate aftermath of the hurricane.

The committee wants to know if such trailers are even a possibility for Maui.

“It is important to understand the options for housing — whether there are sufficient hotel rooms and temporary options available or whether residents may be forced to relocate to the mainland,” the letter states.

Similarly, the committee members said they have concerns about accommodations for federal workers.

According to the letter, there have been reports that a number of FEMA employees have been staying in luxury hotels and resorts, some that charge $1,000 a night for a room.

While the letter states that committee staff was told that those employees were given a government rate that was “likely less than what was being reported” the committee still asked Criswell to detail the long-term housing plan for federal relief workers.

Already, a number of concerns have been raised about whether the committee’s investigation will be used to score political points against Democrats and President Joe Biden in advance of the 2024 elections.

In a written statement, Comer and Republican U.S. Rep. Pete Sessions, who chairs the Government Operations and Federal Workforce Subcommittee, criticized the president after he “failed to deliver an appropriate response when it mattered most.”

Although Biden was swift in approving a disaster declaration for Maui to open up access to federal funds, a number of high profile Republicans, including former president Donald Trump and House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, attacked him in the days afterward for responding to a reporter’s question about the fires with a “no comment” while vacationing at Rehoboth Beach in Delaware.

The White House has since clarified that Biden did not in fact hear the question when it was being asked.

Still, Comer and Sessions said it is the oversight committee’s responsibility to ensure that FEMA is doing its job efficiently and providing assistance in a “seamless, swift manner.”

“The deadly wildfire in Maui shocked the nation and left many, especially those directly impacted by the tragedy, with serious questions that remain unanswered today,” they said.

“To ensure locals are receiving the assistance they need, and taxpayer dollars being used effectively, the House Committee on Oversight and Accountability is taking action and seeking information from FEMA on all ongoing recovery efforts in Maui.”

Read the letter here:

Support Civil Beat during the season of giving.

As a small nonprofit newsroom, our mission is powered by readers like you. But did you know that less than 1% of readers donate to Civil Beat?

Give today and support local journalism that helps to inform, empower and connect.

About the Author