The federal official appointed in February to overhaul the National Flood Insurance Program after it was accused of shortchanging superstorm Sandy victims is stepping down for a job in the private sector.
Brad J. Kieserman, who has worked for 28 years for the U.S. government, is leaving the Federal Emergency Management Agency for an executive position at the Red Cross. His last day with FEMA is June 13.
"I have relied on Brad to tackle the thorniest issues our agency has faced," FEMA administrator W. Craig Fugate said. "I am sad he is leaving us, but he's earned the right to pursue new opportunities."
Lawmakers and advocates pushing to reform the flood insurance program praised Kieserman's work and said his departure is a setback.
"Brad Kieserman was a focused and effective public servant who was willing to make tough decisions to help homeowners," U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) said.
Speaking privately, officials and attorneys who worked closely with Kieserman said he had been planning to leave for months and was not forced out. Yet the move, they said, may have been hastened by his apparent frustration with the slow rate of progress to fix the program.
Kieserman declined a request for an interview.
FEMA, which runs the flood insurance program, has appointed Roy Wright to take over for Kieserman as acting associate administrator for insurance. He has worked for the agency since 2007.
The effort to overhaul the flood insurance program began four months ago, after dozens of homeowners accused private companies hired by the government of forging documents to improperly deny settlements to cover damage from Sandy.
The allegations have led to an ongoing criminal probe and the departure of two top officials at the flood insurance program. FEMA, meanwhile, launched a sweeping process last week to review up to 142,000 claims.
Kieserman has been the face of those overhaul efforts.
In his four months running the program he negotiated a framework to settle roughly 2,000 lawsuits filed by Sandy victims. He also designed the system to review claims, including working with disaster-recovery groups in hopes of making it easier for storm victims to navigate.
Lawmakers and lawyers for homeowners regularly called Kieserman an honest negotiator who did his best to fix an unwieldy government program. Yet they also accused him of occasionally promising results he couldn't deliver.
For instance, the talks to settle lawsuits filed by Sandy victims broke down in April after lawyers for the Department of Homeland Security overruled Kieserman, saying he was barred by federal law from paying for homeowners' legal fees.
Meanwhile, it's been four months since FEMA announced it would settle every case, and the agency has only issued about a dozen checks.
"The guy they brought in to fix the program is leaving," said Steven Mostyn, a Texas-based attorney for storm victims. "And it's not fixed yet."