Subcommittee Investigates Mismanagement of Millions of Dollars at Weather Service
Washington, D.C. – Today the Subcommittee on Investigations and Oversight held a hearing to examine the events that led to an unauthorized reprogramming of millions of dollars within the National Weather Service (NWS).
In her opening remarks, the Subcommittee’s Vice Chair Rep. Sandy Adams (R-FL) said, “Keeping Congress in the dark while there’s a storm brewing at the agency is at best irresponsible and at worst dishonest… Money designated for programs like the Advanced Weather Interactive Processing System and Weather Radio Improvement Project, important investments in future capabilities, were used to pay for other near-term expenses.”
A 2011 National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) report and a 2012 joint NOAA and Department of Commerce (DOC) investigative report provide the basis for memos that acknowledge a financial unit that “operated outside the bounds of acceptable financial management” and employees engaged in the transfer of potentially millions of NWS funds, all without Congressional authorization or notification.
Congress has typically fully funded the NWS based on the Administration’s budget request, and generally exceeded the request. The fact that the amount requested appears to be insufficient is a different - and more serious – issue, as it not only provides Congress with inaccurate information regarding the true needs of the NWS, but it also appears to be the main cause of the reprogramming issue at NWS. “So when Congress is informed that the Weather Service has been experiencing a budget shortfall for several years, we are understandably concerned,” Vice Chair Adams said.
Witnesses discussed how NOAA, DOC, and the DOC Office of Inspector General (OIG) plan to prevent similar incidents in the future, as well as address the breakdown in communication that led to earlier complaints being ignored. DOC Inspector General Todd J. Zinser discussed his preliminary analysis of the NOAA/DOC report. Of note, Mr. Zinser testified that in April of this year, the OIG received a complaint indicating that NOAA officials outside of NWS had knowledge of the improper transfer of funds. Mr. Zinser further outlined a series of allegations by whistleblowers claiming that inappropriate financial techniques are still ongoing at the Agency. Mr. Zinser’s testimony outlines the following complaint:
“OIG received another complaint from a senior NWS employee, who raised concerns about how NWS continues to handle its financial challenges, including the lack of sufficient oversight and appropriate measures to mitigate funding shortfalls. The complainant reported being told specifically to use funds from what the complainant described as ‘admittedly’ not the ‘right pocket.’”
In the face of these serious concerns, Vice Chair Adams criticized NOAA and DOC for refusing to provide an important witness for today’s hearing. NOAA’s Chief of Resources, Operations, and Management (CROM), and former Chief Financial Officer (CFO) during the events in question was invited to testify and would have been able to provide a historical context for the funding issues and impediments to transparency NWS faced. Vice Chair Adams said, “Denying the Committee’s request to hear from the person who was the agency’s principal financial manager during a time in which millions of dollars of resources were secretly misallocated is simply unacceptable. This should be embarrassing for an Administration that repeatedly declares itself ‘the most transparent in history.’”
The following witnesses testified at today’s hearing:
Dr. Kathryn D. Sullivan, Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Environmental Observation and Prediction and Deputy Administrator for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, U.S. Department of Commerce
Inspector General Todd J. Zinser, U.S. Department of Commerce, Office of Inspector General
INVITED - Ms. Maureen Wylie, Chief, Resource and Operations Management, and former Chief Financial Officer, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, U.S. Department of Commerce
Dr. William B. Gail, Chief Technology Officer, Global Weather Corporation, and Member, Committee on the Assessment of the National Weather Service’s Modernization Program, National Research Council of the National Academies.
Mr. Richard Hirn, General Counsel and Legislative Director, National Weather Service Employees Organization