Democrats on the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology are launching an investigation into the Commerce Department’s involvement in NOAA’s unusual decision to side with Trump over its scientists.
Chairwoman Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-Tex.) and Rep. Mikie Sherrill (D-N.J.), chairwoman of the oversight and investigations subcommittee, sent a letter to Ross requesting information related to the department’s dealings with NOAA regarding Dorian.
The Science Committee, which has jurisdiction over NOAA, is requesting a briefing with Commerce Department staff who may have been involved in issuing instructions to NOAA that led to several directives being issued to Weather Service staff and culminated in the Sept. 6 unsigned statement, which disavowed a tweet sent by the Birmingham office Sept. 1. That tweet definitively stated that Alabama would not see any impacts from Dorian and came in response to a flood of phone calls tothe office from worried residents.
After sending the tweet, NWS staff learned that the calls were prompted by a tweet from Trump that falsely asserted that the state “would most likely be hit (much) harder than anticipated” by the powerful hurricane.
The NOAA statement resulted in part from pressure that Ross brought to bear on Neil Jacobs, the acting head of NOAA, in an early-morning phone call Friday from Greece, where the secretary was traveling for meetings, according to three people familiar with the matter who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the sensitive issue.
“We are committed to supporting the activities of the NWS and its dedicated staff. During your Senate confirmation hearing, you committed to allowing federal scientists to ‘be free to communicate data clearly and concisely’ and that you would ‘not interfere with the release of factual scientific data,’ ” Johnson and Sherrill wrote to Ross.
They noted that based on news reports, it appears that Ross violated the “values of scientific integrity.”
The Science Committee is requesting all records of communication between Commerce Department officials, NOAA and the White House between Sept. 1 and 9 pertaining to the president’s tweet and NOAA’s Sept. 6 statement.
In reality, at the time Trump sent the Sept. 1 tweet, the only hurricane forecast product that was showing potential impacts in Alabama noted the probability of seeing tropical-storm-force winds, and even that showed about a 5 percent chance of such conditions in a small portion of the state. The official track forecast at the time of his tweet showed the storm moving up the southeastern coast, away from Alabama.Commerce Department probes
In addition to the Science Committee’s investigation, others are initiating probes into NOAA’s decision to back Trump’s claim. These include the Commerce Department’s inspector general and NOAA’s acting chief scientist.
A spokesman for the NWS confirmed Tuesday that the Commerce Department inspector general had launched a probe. The spokesman said two senior leaders had received notice of the investigation.
In addition, NOAA acting chief scientist Craig McLean wrote an email Sunday saying he would open an investigation into whether the agency’s Sept. 6 statement, as well as previous emails to NWS staff, violated the agency’s scientific integrity policy.
“The content of this news release is very concerning as it compromises the ability of NOAA to convey life-saving information necessary to avoid substantial and specific danger to public health and safety,” he wrote. “If the public cannot trust our information, or we debase our forecaster’s warnings and products, that specific danger arises.”
“I have a responsibility to pursue these truths,” he added. “I will.”
The scientific integrity policy includes a provision that states, “In no circumstance may any NOAA official ask or direct Federal scientists or other NOAA employees to suppress or alter scientific findings.”
These investigations are taking shape as outside groups call for inquiries and circulate letters of support for NWS scientists.
Jane Lubchenco, head of NOAA under President Barack Obama; Richard W. Spinrad, NOAA’s chief scientist under Obama; and Andrew Rosenberg, director of the Center for Science and Democracy at the Union of Concerned Scientists, filed a joint request for NOAA to initiate an investigation into possible violations of its scientific integrity policy, Lubchenco wrote in an email.
Meanwhile, a new tropical weather system is brewing, and this one may actually hit Alabama.