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'SharpieGate' Report Describes Political Pressure, Broken Rules

Investigation finds NOAA chief violated agency's scientific integrity policy
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted Jun 17, 2020 8:47 AM CDT

(Newser) – The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's chief violated the agency's scientific integrity policy last year in backing President Trump's claim that a hurricane was headed for Alabama. In reproving employees for contradicting Trump, NOAA Acting Administrator Neil Jacobs "engaged in the misconduct intentionally, knowingly, or in reckless disregard" for the policy, an investigating panel concluded, per the New York Times. Minutes after Trump tweeted that Hurricane Dorian would hit Alabama "harder than anticipated" on Sept. 1, the National Weather Service office in Birmingham tweeted that "Alabama will NOT see any impacts." Facing pressure from the White House and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, who threatened to fire NOAA's political staff, Jacobs' office issued a Sept. 6 statement claiming the office's tweet was "inconsistent with probabilities from the best forecast products available."

"The development of the statement was not based on science but appears to be largely driven by external influence from senior Commerce [Department] officials," reads the report issued Monday, per the Hill. It calls for NOAA to create formal rules on interactions between NOAA and Commerce Department officials and to better ensure "the right of NOAA scientists to review, comment, and amend any official communication that relies on their scientific analysis." NOAA largely agreed with the findings, describing scientific integrity as "essential," per the Hill. Rep. Paul Tonko (D-NY), who'd called for an investigation, said "the political leaders who interfered in our emergency response system need to publicly apologize or resign." Meanwhile, Jacobs defended the Sept. 6 statement, saying there was "a small, but non-zero, chance of impacts" in Alabama. (Read more NOAA stories.)

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