Sources: NOAA threat­ened with fir­ings

Con­tra­dic­tion with Trump’s Hur­ri­cane Do­rian claims cited

The Mercury News - - Front Page - By Peter Baker, Christo­pher Flavelle and Lisa Fried­man

WASHINGTON >> The sec­re­tary of com­merce threat­ened to fire top em­ploy­ees at the Na­tional Oceanic and At­mo­spheric Ad­min­is­tra­tion on Fri­day af­ter the agency’s Birm­ing­ham, Alabama, of­fice con­tra­dicted Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s claim that Hur­ri­cane Do­rian might hit Alabama, ac­cord­ing to three peo­ple fa­mil­iar with the dis­cus­sion.

That threat led to an un­usual, un­signed state­ment later that Fri­day by the NOAA dis­avow

ing the of­fice’s own po­si­tion that Alabama was not at risk. The re­ver­sal caused wide­spread anger within the agency and drew crit­i­cism from the sci­en­tific com­mu­nity that NOAA, a di­vi­sion of the Com­merce Depart­ment, had been bent to political pur­poses.

Of­fi­cials at the White House and the Com­merce Depart­ment de­clined to com­ment.

The act­ing chief sci­en­tist at the NOAA, how­ever, said Sun­day his agency likely vi­o­lated its sci­en­tific in­tegrity rules last week when it pub­licly chas­tised a weather of­fice that con­tra­dicted Pres­i­dent

Don­ald Trump’s claim that Hur­ri­cane Do­rian threat­ened Alabama.

Two top NOAA civil ser­vants not so qui­etly re­volted against an un­signed agency news re­lease is­sued late Fri­day re­buk­ing the Birm­ing­ham weather of­fice for say­ing Alabama was safe. The agency’s top sci­en­tist called Fri­day’s re­lease “political” and the head of the Na­tional Weather Ser­vice said the Alabama of­fice “did what any of­fice would do to pro­tect the pub­lic.”

“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,” act­ing chief sci­en­tist and assistant ad­min­is­tra­tor

for ocean and at­mo­spheric re­search Craig McLean wrote to staffers Sun­day night.

In the email, first re­ported by The Washington Post, McLean said he is “pur­su­ing the po­ten­tial vi­o­la­tions” of the agency’s science in­tegrity pol­icy.

The ac­tions by Com­merce Sec­re­tary Wil­bur L. Ross Jr. are the lat­est de­vel­op­ments in a political im­broglio that be­gan more than a week ago, when Do­rian was bear­ing down on the Ba­hamas and Trump wrote on Twit­ter that Alabama would be hit “harder than an­tic­i­pated.” A few min­utes later, the Na­tional Weather Ser­vice in Birm­ing­ham, Alabama, posted on Twit­ter that “Alabama will NOT see any im­pacts

from Do­rian. We re­peat, no im­pacts from Hur­ri­cane Do­rian will be felt across Alabama.”

Trump per­sisted in say­ing that Alabama was at risk, and a few days later, on Wed­nes­day, he dis­played a NOAA map that ap­peared to have been al­tered with a black Sharpie to in­clude Alabama in the area po­ten­tially af­fected by Do­rian.

Ross in­ter­vened two days later, early Fri­day, ac­cord­ing to the three peo­ple fa­mil­iar with his ac­tions. Ross phoned Neil Ja­cobs, the act­ing ad­min­is­tra­tor of NOAA, from Greece where the sec­re­tary was trav­el­ing for meet­ings and in­structed Ja­cobs to fix the agency’s per­ceived con­tra­dic­tion of the pres­i­dent.

Ja­cobs ob­jected to the de­mand and was told that the political staff at NOAA would be fired if the sit­u­a­tion was not fixed, ac­cord­ing to the three in­di­vid­u­als, who re­quested anonymity be­cause they were not au­tho­rized to dis­cuss the episode.

Unlike ca­reer gov­ern­ment em­ploy­ees, political staff are ap­pointed by the ad­min­is­tra­tion. They usu­ally in­clude a hand­ful of top of­fi­cials, such as Ja­cobs, and their aides.

How­ever, a se­nior ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cial who asked not to be iden­ti­fied when dis­cussing in­ter­nal de­lib­er­a­tions said that the Birm­ing­ham of­fice had been wrong and that NOAA had sim­ply done the re­spon­si­ble thing and cor­rected the record.

That of­fi­cial sug­gested the Twit­ter post by the Birm­ing­ham fore­cast­ers had been mo­ti­vated by a de­sire to em­bar­rass the pres­i­dent more than con­cern for the safety of peo­ple in Alabama. The of­fi­cial pro­vided no ev­i­dence to sup­port that con­clu­sion.

On Mon­day, the Na­tional Weather Ser­vice di­rec­tor, Louis W. Uc­cellini, got a stand­ing ova­tion from con­fer­ence at­ten­dees when he praised the work of the Birm­ing­ham of­fice and said staff mem­bers there had acted “with one thing in mind, pub­lic safety” when they con­tra­dicted Trump’s claim that Alabama was at risk.

CHIP SOMODEVILL­A — GETTY IM­AGES

Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump on Sept. 4ref­er­ences a map from Aug. 29show­ing Hur­ri­cane Do­rian’s pro­jected path. The map was al­tered by a black marker.

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