Energy & Environment

Former weather service employees refuse to speak about ethics allegations

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Two former employees of the National Weather Service (NWS) on Wednesday refused to speak with House lawmakers about allegations of misconduct concerning a consulting contract one of them had with the agency.

Lawmakers on the House Science Committee accused Peter Jiron of retiring from the weather agency in 2010, and then coming back soon after as a contractor with a higher salary, under a contract he helped write.

{mosads}Jiron and his former supervisor, Robert Byrd, declined to answer any questions about the allegations, repeatedly invoking their Fifth Amendment rights to silence.

“There is something fundamentally wrong with a system that allows a government employee to draft their own post-retirement contract, which increases their salary and pays for their housing while being funded by the American taxpayers,” said Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas), chairman of the panel.

Jiron and Byrd refused to answer questions the committee sent to them, or to be interviewed by committee staff. Smith hoped that subpoenaing them for a hearing would compel them, but it did not.

Democrats accused Smith of political theater and holding a hearing with no intention of solving any problems.

Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-Texas) said the problems at the center of the hearing “are less about the specific conduct of one individual than a failure of judgment and oversight up and down the management chain in the National Weather Service,” but she said Republicans were not interested in hearing about that.

The Commerce Department’s Office of Inspector General released a report in June concluding that Jiron, who was NWS’s chief financial officer, oversaw many aspects of how his contract was written.

His salary was much higher as a contractor than as an employee, and the agreement entitled him to an apartment paid for by the federal government.

“Today’s hearing was an opportunity for Mr. Jiron and Mr. Byrd to explain to us why taxpayers picked up the tab for an allegedly improper contract worth nearly half a million dollars,” Smith said in a statement after the hearing.

“Unfortunately, both former senior officials chose a path of non-cooperation and refused to speak with committee staff voluntarily and only appeared here today under subpoena. I am disappointed that neither Mr. Jiron nor Mr. Byrd chose to testify today.”

Tags Eddie Bernice Johnson Lamar Smith National Weather Service Peter Jiron

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