Subcommittee Requests Clarification on Rationale for Canceled Hurricane Sandy Assessment

Dec 20, 2012

Washington DC – Yesterday, in a letter to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Investigations and Oversight Subcommittee Chairman Paul Broun, M.D. (R-GA) requested additional clarification on NOAA’s rationale for terminating a National Weather Service (NWS) assessment of Hurricane Sandy.  Chairman Broun also questioned limitations and independence of the new assessment, as reflected in NOAA’s proposed charter.

In response to Chairman Broun’s November 20 letter, NOAA identified two reasons for the termination of the first service assessment team;  first, was a potential interest in initiating a broader federal collaboration, and second, speculation that the original assessment team would have violated the Federal Advisory Committee Act (FACA) due to the participation of non-federal employees on the assessment team.

In the letter sent yesterday Chairman Broun questioned why NOAA would prohibit external advisors because of FACA. “If the Sandy service assessment team was terminated because NOAA and NWS were concerned about violating FACA, then they must have also violated FACA on several prior weather service assessments that included outside experts.  Conversely, if those previous assessment teams did not violate FACA, then this rationale makes no sense,” Broun said.

Chairman Broun also questioned the diminished scope and independence of the new charter.  While the new team “does appear to have broader federal collaboration given the participation of Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) staff, the assessment itself is not a broader review when compared to the draft charter of the initial, now-terminated assessment team,” Chairman Broun states in his letter.

The new Sandy assessment charter also gives a great deal of control to a limited number of senior NOAA employees, including Administrator Jane Lubchenco, whose approval is required for the public release of the service assessment report.  “This level of control over the assessment’s operations and findings is compounded by the fact that the new charter requires that participants sign non-disclosure agreements - further undermining NOAA’s claim of independence and transparency,” Chairman Broun adds in the letter.

“I hope the initial Sandy Service Assessment was not terminated because it was too independent, or because it was asking questions that the government found uncomfortable,” Chairman Broun continued.  “The new service assessment charter lacks sufficient independence given that non-governmental participation has been scaled back, confidentiality clauses have been added, and management influence has grown.  NOAA has also narrowed the focus of the assessment to the point that it may not substantively inform future agency actions.