Democrats ramp up calls to investigate NOAA

Democrats ramp up calls to investigate NOAA

Democratic lawmakers are ramping up requests for investigations into why officials at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) reprimanded their own scientists for contradicting President TrumpDonald John TrumpGOP divided over impeachment trial strategy Official testifies that Bolton had 'one-on-one meeting' with Trump over Ukraine aid Louisiana governor wins re-election MORE’s tweet on Hurricane Dorian.

Four Democratic lawmakers are now calling for probes into reports that the White House played a hand in reprimanding NOAA staff at the agency’s Birmingham, Ala., office for tweeting that Alabama would not be affected by the hurricane. That kind of involvement would be seen as a politicization of science.

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On Wednesday, the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology launched a congressional inquiry into the circumstances that led NOAA to issue an unsigned statement last week that appeared to rebuke its own scientists who contradicted Trump’s claims about Dorian’s path.

Committee Chairwoman Eddie Bernice JohnsonEddie Bernice JohnsonWhat has EPA been hiding about formaldehyde? Overnight Energy: House Science Committee hits EPA with subpoenas | California sues EPA over Trump revoking emissions waiver | Interior disbands board that floated privatization at national parks House committee hits EPA with subpoenas MORE (D-Texas) and Investigations and Oversight Subcommittee Chairwoman Mikie SherrillRebecca (Mikie) Michelle SherrillHillicon Valley: Amazon to challenge Pentagon cloud contract in court | State antitrust investigation into Google expands | Intel agencies no longer collecting location data without warrant Bipartisan bill to secure election tech advances to House floor Our commitment to veterans can help us lead for all Americans MORE (D-N.J.) sent a letter to Commerce Secretary Wilbur RossWilbur Louis RossTrump trade adviser pushes back on reports of US-China tariff deal China, US agree to reduce tariffs amid trade talks, Beijing says Income for poorest Americans fell faster than previously thought: study MORE on Wednesday, requesting a briefing from him and asking for details surrounding publication of last week’s statement.

“It appears that in an attempt to support President Donald Trump’s incorrect tweet asserting that Alabama would be 'hit (much) harder than anticipated' by Hurricane Dorian, Commerce officials may have taken a number of steps to pressure NOAA into supporting the President’s assertions,” the lawmakers wrote in their letter to Ross. 

A spokesman for the Commerce Department, which oversees NOAA, confirmed to The Hill that the agency received and is reviewing the letter from Johnson and Sherrill.

Trump on Sept. 1 said Dorian had the potential to hit Alabama, contradicting official weather data at the time. Officials at the National Weather Service in Birmingham tweeted that same day that state residents were not at risk.

On Sept. 6, NOAA issued the unsigned statement, calling the Birmingham tweet “inconsistent with probabilities from the best forecast products available at the time.” 

Hurricane Dorian did not hit Alabama after making landfall on the East Coast.

The New York Times on Tuesday reported that Ross requested the statement. At least 10 lawmakers have since called for Ross to resign. 

A spokesperson for the Commerce Department denied the reporting by the Times.

Johnson and Sherrill questioned in their letter whether Ross had broken promises he made during his confirmation hearing to allow the freedom of science.

“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,’ ” the lawmakers wrote. “However, actions by you that were described in the New York Times article would, if accurate, be inconsistent with the values of scientific integrity.”

The Times reported Wednesday that acting White House chief of staff Mick MulvaneyJohn (Mick) Michael MulvaneyNew witness claims firsthand account of Trump's push for Ukraine probes Trump files to dismiss lawsuit from Bolton aide on impeachment testimony OMB official to testify in impeachment probe if subpoenaed after others refused MORE was responsible for putting pressure on Ross to make a statement. 

Trump later called it a “fake story.”

Rep. Paul TonkoPaul David TonkoOvernight Energy: Trump officials suspend oil, gas production on Utah plots after lawsuit | California bucks Trump on lightbulb rollback | Scientists join Dems in panning EPA's 'secret science' rule Scientists join Democrats in panning EPA's 'secret science' rule Advocates step up efforts for horse racing reform bill after more deaths MORE (D-N.Y.), chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee's Environment and Climate Change Subcommittee, separately requested NOAA’s Scientific Integrity office to investigate the Trump administration’s involvement in the NOAA statement. In a letter sent Tuesday night, he called for a probe to determine whether agency officials violated NOAA’s scientific integrity order.

“As one of America’s foremost scientific agencies responsible for supporting public safety, NOAA’s policy of upholding scientific integrity standards is one of the most important in our federal government. The reported abuses by high ranking political appointees, in contravention of agency convention and best practices, appear to violate the NOAA Administrative Order on Scientific Integrity,” Tonko wrote.

His request would complement an investigation undertaken by NOAA’s acting chief scientist, Craig McLean, who announced Sunday that he was opening a probe into the statement.

“There followed, last Friday, an unsigned press release from ‘NOAA’ that inappropriately and incorrectly contradicted the NWS forecaster,” McLean said Sunday. “My understanding is that this intervention to contradict the forecaster was not based on science but on external factors including reputation and appearance, or simply put, political."

Tonko said his investigation will ensure McLean’s findings are made public.

Sen. Jeanne ShaheenCynthia (Jeanne) Jeanne ShaheenOn The Money: US paid record .1B in tariffs in September | Dems ramp up oversight of 'opportunity zones' | Judge hints at letting House lawsuit over Trump tax returns proceed Overnight Energy: EPA watchdog slams agency chief after deputy fails to cooperate in probe | Justices wrestle with reach of Clean Water Act | Bipartisan Senate climate caucus grows Overnight Defense: Trump, Erdogan confirm White House meeting | Public impeachment hearings set for next week | Top defense appropriator retiring MORE (D-N.H.) was the first lawmaker to publicly call for an investigation, sending a letter to the Commerce Department’s Office of the Inspector General on Monday asking them to look into the circumstances surrounding the NOAA statement.

The inspector general's office confirmed it has opened an investigation. A Sept. 7 letter sent by the inspector general to Neil Jacobs, the acting under secretary of Commerce for oceans and atmosphere, requested all communications regarding the statement.

“Recent reports of inconsistent messaging culminating in an unattributed press release surrounding information related to Hurricane Dorian call into question the NWS’s processes, scientific independence, and ability to communicate accurate and timely weather warnings and data to the nation in times of national emergency,” the agency wrote.