September 11, 2019

Wyden Demands Answers from Commerce IG on Reports of Suppression and Retaliation at NOAA

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senator Ron Wyden wrote this week to U.S. Department of Commerce Inspector General Peggy Gustafson demanding answers following recent reports of improper behavior at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA), including one that Commerce Department officials threatened to fire NOAA employees for contradicting the president’s false assertions about the projected path of Hurricane Dorian.

In the letter led by Sen. Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii,  and signed by 12 other senators, the senators also denounced the administration’s repeated attempts to censor, withhold, and undermine science for partisan political gain at the U.S. Departments of Agriculture and the Interior as well as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

“Scientists within the federal government work for the American people, not for private industry or the President’s personal vanity. Individuals and families across the country rely on weather forecasting to determine everything from what they wear each day to the decision to evacuate a home during extreme weather events. As deadly extreme weather becomes more and more common, maintaining public trust in these reports becomes increasingly important. Agency officials should not be sacrificing trustworthy weather reporting for political gain,” the senators wrote.

The senators also requested the following information related to the circumstances surrounding the past week’s events within NOAA:

  1. Whether Department officials who are not subject matter experts have suppressed or altered—or are actively suppressing or altering—scientific products or communications;
  2. Whether Department officials were pressured or explicitly directed by the White House to take the actions reported or to overrule career staff;
  3. The legality of any actions by Department officials, who are not subject matter experts, who altered or witnessed any alterations to scientific products of communications; and
  4. Whether Department officials retaliated or made political decisions that have impacted NOAA’s ability to fulfill its mission to understand and predict changes in climate, weather, oceans, and coasts, to share that knowledge and information with others, and to conserve and manage coastal and marine ecosystems and resources.

Joining Senators Wyden and Hirono on the letter to Inspector General Gustafson are U.S. Senators Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis., Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., Maggie Hassan, D-N.H., Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., Ed Markey, D-Mass., Bernard Sanders, D-Vt., Mark Warner, D-Va., Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., and Sheldon Whitehouse D-R.I.

A digital version of the letter to Inspector General Gustafson is available here.