The Secretary of Commerce threatened to fire top employees at the federal scientific agency responsible for weather forecasts last 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.
That threat led to an unusual, unsigned statement later that Friday by the agency, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, disavowing the National Weather Service’s position that Alabama was not at risk. The reversal caused widespread anger within the agency and drew accusations from the scientific community that the National Weather Service, which is part of NOAA, had been bent to political purposes.
NOAA’s statement on Friday is now being examined by the Commerce Department’s Office of Inspector General, according to documents reviewed by The New York Times, and employees have been asked to preserve their files. NOAA is a division of the Commerce Department.
The Commerce Department disputed the account on behalf of the Secretary of Commerce, Wilbur L. Ross Jr. “Secretary Ross did not threaten to fire any NOAA staff over forecasting and public statements about Hurricane Dorian,” the department said in a statement issued by a spokesman.
The accusations against Mr. Ross are the latest developments in a political imbroglio that began more than a week ago, when Dorian was bearing down on the Bahamas and Mr. Trump wrote on Twitter that Alabama would be hit “harder than anticipated.” A few minutes later, the National Weather Service in Birmingham, Ala., posted on Twitter that “Alabama will NOT see any impacts from Dorian. We repeat, no impacts from Hurricane Dorian will be felt across Alabama.”
Mr. Ross, the commerce secretary, intervened two days later, early last Friday, according to the three people familiar with his actions. Mr. Ross phoned Neil Jacobs, the acting administrator of NOAA, from Greece where the secretary was traveling for meetings and instructed Dr. Jacobs to fix the agency’s perceived contradiction of the president.
Dr. 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.
Craig N. McLean, NOAA’s acting chief scientist, sent an email to staff members Monday notifying the agency that he was looking into “potential violations” in the agency’s decision to ultimately back Mr. Trump’s statements rather than those of its own scientists. He called the agency’s action “a danger to public health and safety.”
Richard Hirn, general counsel for the National Weather Service Employees Organization, said what made the NOAA episode extraordinary, though, was that it was not part of an overarching policy dispute on a contentious topic like climate change. “This is just to cover up an embarrassing mistake the president made,” he said.
Mr. Hirn, who said he has worked with the agency through six administrations, added that, “Never before has anybody tried to politicize the weather in all the administrations I’ve worked with.”
Seriously, impeach Ross, and then go after Donald Trump.
F%$# that, just impeach Trump.