Sharpiegate: A Chronology

The Aeolus satellite passed close to Hurricane Dorian as the storm stalled over the Bahamas, as shown in this image from NASA’s Aqua satellite taken at 1805 UTC on 1 September 2019. The red line has been superimposed to indicate Aeolus’s path. The Aeolus wind data for that path and beyond, from about 6°N to 42°N, are shown below. (Credit: NASA)

NOAA Hurricane Advisory
Sept. 1, 2019
8 a.m.

Hurricane Dorian forecast at 8 a.m. on Sept. 1, 2019. (Credit: NOAA)

The NOAA advisory issued on Sept. 1 at 8 a.m. EDT showed up to a 10 percent probability of tropical storm force winds stronger than 39 mph lasting an average of 1 minute for a small portion of southeastern Alabama.

Tweet by President Donald Trump
Sunday, Sept. 1, 2019
10:51 a.m. EDT

In addition to Florida – South Carolina, North Carolina, Georgia, and Alabama, will most likely be hit (much) harder than anticipated. Looking like one of the largest hurricanes ever. Already category 5. BE CAREFUL! GOD BLESS EVERYONE!

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Sharpiegate: OIG Report Slams Commerce, NOAA & White House for Hurricane Dorian Actions

President Donald Trump redraws Hurricane Dorian’s path after the fact.

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

A government review of the Sharpiegate scandal has concluded that Commerce Department officials erred last year when they forced NOAA to issue a statement last year criticizing the National Weather Service (NWS) and backing President Donald Trump’s erroneous forecast regarding Hurricane Dorian impact’s on Alabama.

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Chairwoman Johnson Demands Cooperation from Department of Commerce on Hurricane Dorian OIG Report

Eddie Bernice Johnson

DALLAS (Eddie Bernice Johnson PR) – Today,  Chairwoman Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) sent a letter to Department of Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross regarding the July 1 memorandum sent to Secretary Ross by the Department of Commerce’s Inspector General, Peggy Gustafson. The memo expressed concerns over the Department’s efforts to obstruct the publication of a completed Office of Inspector General (OIG) report, which was provided to the Department on June 26 and due to be published on June 29.

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Chair Grijalva, Ranking Member Cantwell Urge Trump Administration to Stop Obstructing Release of Sharpiegate Report

President Donald Trump redraws Hurricane Dorian’s path after the fact.

WASHINGTON, D.C. (Raul Grijalva/Maria Canwell PR) – Chair Raúl M. Grijalva (D-Ariz.) and Senate Ranking Member Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), who lead the committees of jurisdiction over the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), wrote to Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross demanding that the Trump administration stop interfering with the Department of Commerce Inspector General’s (IG) “Sharpiegate” investigation that was scheduled to be released last week.

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Sharpiegate: Commerce OIG Summary of Findings on Hurricane Dorian Statement

This Copernicus Sentinel-3 image features Hurricane Dorian as it pummels the Bahamas on 2 September 2019 at 15:16 GMT (11:16 EDT). (Credit: ESA)

Evaluation of NOAA’s September 6, 2019, Statement About
Hurricane Dorian Forecasts
FINAL REPORT NO. OIG-20-032-I
JUNE 26, 2020

U.S. Department of Commerce
Office of Inspector General

June 26, 2019

INFORMATION MEMORANDUM FOR SECRETARY [WILBUR] ROSS

From: Peggy E. Gustafson
Inspector General

RE: Evaluation of NOAA’s September 6, 2019, Statement About Hurricane Dorian Forecasts
Final Report No. OIG-20-032-1

On Friday, September 6, 2019–the day Hurricane Dorian made landfall in the United States as a Category 1 hurricane–the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) issued an unsighed statement (Statement) [redacted at Department’s request while the Department and its interagency stakeholders complete a pending privilege review] The statement rebuked the NOAA National Weather Service’s (NWS’s) Birmingham, Alabama, office (NWS Birmingham) for a September 1, 2019, tweet that advised that “Alabama will NOT see any impacts from #Dorian” [redacted at Department’s request while the Department and its interagency stakeholders complete a pending privilege review]

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Sharpiegate: Commerce OIG Memo Accusing Commerce Officials of Blocking Hurricane Dorian Report

NASA astronaut Christina Koch snapped this image of Hurricane Dorian from the International Space Station as it flew more than 200 miles above the storm on Sept. 2, 2019. (Credits: NASA/Christina Koch)

July 1, 2020

INFORMATION MEMORANDUM FOR SECRETARY [WILBUR] ROSS

FROM: Peggy E. Gustafson
Inspector General

SUBJECT: The Department Is Actively Preventing OIG from Completing an Evaluation

This memorandum expresses my deep concern that the Department is failing to identify specific privileges and provide privilege markings to a U.S. Department of Commerce Office of Inspector General (OIG) evaluation, while claiming amorphous and generalized privileges, which effectively prevent us from publicly releasing the evaluation that is otherwise ready for release. Under the Inspector General Act of 1978, as amended, 5 U.S.C. App. (IG Act), OIG is an “independent and objective” unit created “to conduct and supervise audits and investigations relating to the programs and operations” of the Department.1 To promote and maintain this independence, the IG Act prohibits you or your staff from preventing OIG from carrying out or completing our work.2 Further, “[i]t is Department policy that all employees fully cooperate with the OIG” in its evaluations.3 This policy requires that all Department employees “shall make every effort to assist the OIG.” 4 As described below, that full cooperation and assistance is absent here.

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Sharpiegate: IG Accuses Commerce Officials of Blocking Release of Critical Hurricane Dorian Report

President Donald Trump redraws Hurricane Dorian’s path after the fact.

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

The Department of Commerce’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) has publicly accused department officials of preventing the public release of a report critical of actions taken by high-level department officials during hurricane Dorian last September.

In a memorandum to Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross posted on the OIG website, Inspector General (IG) Peggy E. Gustafson said officials have held up the report by refusing to identify specific sections that should be redacted because they contain privileged information.

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Johnson: Commerce Department Obstructing Hurricane Dorian Investigation

Eddie Bernice Johnson

DALLAS (Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson PR) — Today, the Department of Commerce’s Inspector General Peggy Gustafson sent a memo to Department of Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross expressing concerns over the Department’s obstruction of a completed Office of Inspector General (OIG) report.

The OIG report examines a statement issued on September 6, 2019, by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration regarding a tweet sent by the Birmingham National Weather Service forecast office.

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NOAA Claims $735 Million in Savings on Polar Follow-On Satellite Program

NOAA has reported that it has found $735 million in savings in the Polar Follow-on (PFO) weather satellite program.

In a letter to Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), NOAA Acting Administrator Neil Jacobs said the program life cycle cost (LCC) has been reduced from $7.57 billion to $6.84 billion for fiscal years 2016 through 2038.

“The PFO Program has performed exceptionally well and the new LCC has sufficient cost and schedule margin to mitigate risk due to the improved posture,” Jacobs wrote.

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Senate Committee Approves Jacobs as NOAA Administrator

Neil Jacobs

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

NOAA might finally get a permanent — if that is the right word –administrator more than three years into President Donald Trump’s four-year term.

The U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, & Transportation approved the nomination of Neil Jacobs to become under secretary of commerce for oceans and atmosphere, a position that includes serving as NOAA administrator.

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Trump Nominates Jacobs as NOAA Administrator

Neil Jacobs

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Nearly three years into Donald Trump’s term as president, NOAA might actually get a permanent administrator.

On Wednesday, Trump nominated Neil Jacobs to serve as the Department of Commerce’s under secretary for Oceans and Atmosphere, which is another name for NOAA administrator.

Jacobs is serving as acting NOAA administrator in his current position as assistant secretary of commerce for Environmental Observation and Prediction.

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House Science Committee Launches Investigation into Commerce Department’s Involvement in NOAA Actions Regarding Hurricane Dorian

Wilbur Ross

Washington, DC (House Science Committee PR) – Chairwoman Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) and Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee Chairwoman Mikie Sherrill (D-NJ) sent a letter to Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross requesting information related to the Department’s involvement in the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) actions surrounding claims that Hurricane Dorian would impact Alabama, as well as requesting a briefing with Department of Commerce employees who may have been involved in any directives to NOAA related to the September 6 statement. The House Science, Space, and Technology Committee has full legislative and oversight jurisdiction over the National Weather Service, in addition to other portions of NOAA.  

 “As the operational face of weather forecasting in the United States, the NWS protects countless lives and property every year through its accurate and timely forecasts, watches, and warnings,” said the Committee Chairwomen Johnson and Sherrill. “We are committed to supporting the activities of the NWS and its dedicated staff. 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.’ However, actions by you that were described in the New York Times article would, if accurate, be inconsistent with the values of scientific integrity.”

Additionally, Chairwoman Johnson sent a letter yesterday to the Department of Commerce’s Inspector General Peggy Gustafson requesting a copy of the notification sent to NOAA staff of an investigation into the statement issued by the Agency on September 6, 2019. The Office of the Inspector General promptly provided a response to the Chairwoman’s inquiry.

A copy of the full letter to Secretary Ross can be found here.

A copy of the full letter to Inspector General Gustafson can be found here.

NOAA Chief Scientist Praises Forecasters, Calls Statement Backing Trump Inappropriate, Political

Craig McLean

This following is the original message Craig McLean, NOAA Research Assistant Administrator, sent to all NOAA Research employees on the morning of Monday, September 9th regarding Hurricane Dorian and its wide-ranging impacts.

Dear Colleagues,

The fierce storm we know as Hurricane Dorian has concluded its ferocious path through the Bahamas and along the U.S. East Coast. Many of you have contributed to the excellent science that has underpinned the forecasts and current understanding of storms such as this one, which accelerated quite rapidly in intensity. The storm also presented challenges in track which improved with enhanced observations. 

We know that our collective work, from the scientists in the aircraft penetrating the storm, to the scientists deploying the glider picket line, to the modelers and folks working the physics of the storms, across OAR and in our CI’S, and across all NOAA Lines, we are working the problem in order to give the NWS forecasters the best tools we possibly can to keep America and our neighbors safe. Thank you. 

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House Science Committee Chairwoman Blasts Ross, Trump on Hurricane Dorian Actions

Eddie Bernice Johnson

WASHINGTON, DC, September 10, 2019 – Yesterday, the New York Times reported “Secretary of Commerce threatened to fire top employees at NOAA on Friday after the agency’s Birmingham office contradicted President Trump’s claim that Hurricane Dorian might hit Alabama, according to three people familiar with the discussion.”

Chairwoman Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) made the following statement.

“I am extremely disturbed by the directive that NOAA leadership sent on September 6, which threatens the integrity and public trust of weather forecasts at the peak of Hurricane season. I am even more distressed to learn that political interference from the Secretary of Commerce may be behind the directive. The Committee will pursue this issue and we expect full cooperation from the Department of Commerce in our efforts. I would remind Department employees of the whistleblower protections afforded them by law. Any employees with information are welcome to share anonymously via the Committee Whistleblower Page.”

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Report: Wilbur Ross Threatened Firings at NOAA Over Sharpiegate

Wilbur Ross

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

The New York Times reports that Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross threatened to fire top officials at NOAA unless they backed President Donald Trump’s claim that he was right when he tweeted about Hurricane Dorian threatening Alabama with worse damage than anticipated.

Meanwhile, NOAA’s top scientist is investigating whether the statement backing Trump’s claim violates the agency’s scientific integrity rules.

Trump tweeted on Sept. 1 that Alabama would be one of the states hit by the Category 5 storm. The warning was quickly contradicted by the National Weather Service’s office in Birmingham, Ala.

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