Dems Demand Assurances NOAA’s Weather Forecasters Will Be Insulated From Politics

With hurricane season about to enter its peak, The Hill reported that six Democratic Senators demanded that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) provide them assurances that they will put tougher rules in place to prevent another “Sharpie-gate” from interfering with the work of the weather and climate scientists at the agency.  Two recent reports — one by the Commerce Department Inspector General and one by the National Academy of Public Administration — were highly critical of the NOAA political leadership for violating its scientific integrity policy by issuing a statement undermining the National Weather Service for appearing to correct President Trump’s erroneous “warning” to the state of Alabama that it would be hit hard by Hurricane Dorian.

Why This Matters:  The investigations found documents that showed lengths the President, the White House Chief of Staff, the Secretary of Commerce, his then-chief of staff (who is on the verge of becoming the Department’s top lawyer), and NOAA’s acting Administrator went to suppress the truth about the President’s incorrect warnings and continued insistence that he was right about Dorian’s possible path — regardless of the impact on the agency and its forecasters’ credibility.  The NOAA statement left agency employees intimidated and demoralized.  Dems are right to demand that there will be no political interference with agency forecasts during this hurricane season — the public’s safety must be paramount.  

What The Dems Demanded

According to The Hill, the letter to NOAA from Democratic Sens. Ed Markey (Mass.), Elizabeth Warren (Mass.), Richard Blumenthal (Conn.), Mazie Hirono (Hawaii), Ron Wyden (Ore.) and Maggie Hassan (N.H.) “While you dispute the NAPA findings in your response — stating that the tweet and NOAA statement on Hurricane Dorian are ‘not the types of science and research to which the [scientific integrity] policy applies—it remains clear that this incident casts serious doubt over NOAA’s ability to ensure the scientific integrity of its world-class employees.”  The Senators went on to say, “NOAA must “determine what steps you will take to implement or even to exceed NAPA’s recommendations in order to establish an ethically sound culture at NOAA that ensures scientific integrity is paramount.”

The Commerce IG Report

The Commerce Department’s Inspector General report on the circumstances surrounding the NOAA statement found that “The Department defended the issuance of the Statement as a necessary correction of the NWS Birmingham office to ensure the scientific accuracy of weather forecasts. But the direct accounts of how and why the Statement was drafted vary significantly. Upon our review of the evidence in its totality—including these varied accounts, and in the light of the stated mission of NWS to “protect life and property”—we found that the NWS Birmingham weather forecasting staff acted properly on September 1 in tweeting a public safety message to inform the public and emergency management partners that Alabama would not see impacts from Hurricane Dorian.”  It went on to conclude that “The Statement undercut the NWS’s forecasts and potentially undercut public trust in NOAA’s and the NWS’s science and the apolitical nature of that science. By requiring NOAA to issue an unattributed statement related to a then-5-day-old tweet, while an active hurricane continued to exist off the east coast of the United States, the Department displayed poor judgment in exercising its authority over NOAA.”

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