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Money Mismanagement Storm at the National Weather Service

When whistleblowers sounded the alarm, the inspector general let the potential wrongdoers investigate the alleged wrongdoings.

by
Bridget Johnson

Bio

September 14, 2012 - 11:24 pm
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Congress this week delved into a money mismanagement cyclone at the National Weather Service that could leave Americans more vulnerable to severe weather events.

Over the past several years, Congress has mostly exceeded the administration’s funding request for the NWS, but for the past several years the NWS has been reporting a budget shortfall.

Rep. Sandy Adams (R-Fla.), vice chair of the House Science, Space, and Technology subcommittee on Investigations and Oversight, noted at Wednesday’s hearing that the panel had been informed that no NWS employees gained financially through the funds mismanagement. Instead, money designated for critical projects like the advanced weather interactive processing system and weather radio improvement was shuffled toward newer expenses.

“Yes, I’m glad that no one stole money for personal gain, but make no mistake, Congress’s trust — my trust, has been violated,” Adams said.

The hearing painted a picture of a Weather Service with hazy transparency and lack of oversight, as well as an agency with “significant problems with budget and financial controls.”

Despite concerns over the money troubles, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration didn’t provide a requested witness — the former CFO — to help reconstruct the financial mess, Adams said.

“The committee was willing to work with NOAA, even going as far as allowing the agency to only submit one piece of written testimony, but NOAA still refused,” she said.

“It also makes it difficult for us to not ask, what are you hiding?” Adams added.

Ranking Member Paul Tonko (D-N.Y.) said the problem goes much deeper than one agency. “While there is no question that wrongdoing occurred at NOAA, just as troubling to me is the failure by the inspector general’s office at the Department of Commerce to take aggressive steps to investigate this matter. The IG is the cop on the beat, so to speak, at federal agencies.”

“After receiving multiple tips, the IG’s office recognized the potential problem, but the response to allegations of high level financial shenanigans seems to have been to send those allegations back to the agency to ask them to check on their own misconduct,” Tonko said. “It seems counterintuitive to me that the best way to ferret out problems is to ask a potential wrongdoers to investigate their own wrongdoing.”

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