Hurricane Dorian: Watchdog Criticizes Commerce Department For Siding With Trump Over Wrong Forecast

Inspector General Peggy Gustafson’s report states that the statement, which supported President Donald Trump’s erroneous claim that Alabama had been on the storm’s path, could have far-reaching implications that discredit public confidence in the NWS.

“The broader, longer-term consequence is that NOAA’s reprimand from the NWS Birmingham office could have a chilling effect on future public safety messages from NWS forecasters, as well as undermine public confidence in NWS forecasts. “the report states.

During Dorian’s approach to the United States last year, Trump showed media members an image of the storm’s potential path, which included an extension of the official forecast for an area of ​​Alabama that was clearly drawn on a permanent marker. .

Responding to calls of concern, the Birmingham, Alabama National Weather Service office tweeted, “Alabama will NOT see any #Dorian impacts. We repeat, Hurricane #Dorian impacts will not be felt throughout Alabama. The system will stay too far away.” . East.”

But on September 6, NOAA released a statement saying: “Information provided by NOAA and the National Hurricane Center to President Trump and the general public demonstrated that tropical storm force winds from Hurricane Dorian could affect Alabama. .. The Birmingham National The Weather Service’s Sunday morning tweet spoke in absolute terms that were inconsistent with the odds of the best forecast products available at the time. “

Thursday’s report exposes how then-White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney told Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross that “the NWS appears to intentionally contradict the president. And we need to know why.”

Trump, Mulvaney wrote, “wants a correction or an explanation or both.”

But the report specifically targets Acting Commerce Department General Counsel Michael Walsh and then Acting Deputy General Counsel David Dewhirst, both of whom played a role in drafting the NOAA statement.

“While Mr. Mulvaney issued a request for ‘a correction or an explanation or both,’ the Department, and significantly Mr. Walsh and Mr. Dewhirst, have a responsibility to transform what could be construed as a harmless request for an explanation from NWS Birmingham tweeted in an application that required a public statement that rebuked NWS Birmingham, “the report says.

“In the end, Mr. Walsh and Mr. Dewhirst were ill-equipped to formulate a response to the incoming request that also protected NOAA’s best interests.”

Walsh, however, wrote in a response attached to the report that the IG Commerce’s findings “are not fully supported by any of the evidence or factual findings that the report itself presents.”

Instead, the Inspector General selectively quotes the interviews, takes the facts out of context, portrays interrelated events without any evidence to establish a connection, and ignores basic governance structures at the Commerce Department, “he wrote.

Sean Brebbia, the acting deputy general manager of the Commerce Department’s Office of Special Projects, said the report found no department employees have done anything wrong.

“The absence of a formal recommendation shows that there were no major flaws in the Department’s handling of this situation,” Brebbia wrote.

Thursday’s report comes after a scientific misconduct investigation earlier this month found that NOAA officials violated its ethical standards and scientific integrity policy when they issued these conflicting statements during Hurricane Dorian.

That investigation found that NOAA leadership’s actions during the storm’s approach violated the agency’s scientific and ethical standards.

CNN’s Ellie Kaufman and Maegan Vázquez contributed to this report.


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