Energy & Environment

Commerce Department led ‘flawed process’ on Sharpiegate, watchdog finds

An internal watchdog has said that the Commerce Department led a “flawed process” during what is now known as the Sharpiegate controversy last year. 

Last September, President Trump held up a map that showed an altered path for Hurricane Dorian sketched out with a black marker that appeared to wrongly show the storm headed toward Alabama in support of a statement he made earlier about the hurricane’s projected path.

Following this, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) released an unsigned statement saying that the storm did at one point appear to possibly have impacts in the state, and criticized the Birmingham National Weather Service Office for tweeting that Alabama would not see impacts from the storm. 

A recently posted summary of a forthcoming Commerce Department inspector general report said that the department led a “flawed process that discounted NOAA participation,” and also “required NOAA to issue a Statement that did not further NOAA’s or [National Weather Service’s (NWS)] interests.”

The summary report also stated that the department “failed to account for the public safety intent of the NWS Birmingham tweet and the distinction between physical science and social science messaging.”

Although the summary stated that a copy of the report would be posted online on Monday, only the summary was available as of Tuesday afternoon.

The summary also stated that an unidentified NOAA official deleted relevant text messages.

A Commerce official who reviewed the report but was not authorized to comment told The Hill that they did not believe the evidence provided matched the report’s conclusion.

The department’s official responses will be included in the full version of the report.

After Trump insisted last year that Alabama could be affected by Hurricane Dorian, NOAA released a statement saying that “tropical storm-force winds from Hurricane Dorian could impact Alabama,” contradicting a tweet from the National Weather Service in Birmingham, Ala., that said the state would see “no impacts” from the hurricane.

The NOAA statement also knocked the Birmingham office’s tweet, saying it “spoke in absolute terms that were inconsistent with probabilities from the best forecast products available at the time.”

The NOAA statement was met with strong public backlash, and another recent investigation found that it was driven largely by political influence rather than science.

This report was updated at 2:15 p.m. 

Tags Donald Trump Hurricane Dorian Hurricane Dorian–Alabama controversy National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Sharpiegate
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