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Lubchenco: Financial Misconduct at National Weather Service "Very Clever," "Hidden" -- UPDATE

Laura M. Delgado
Posted: 25-Jun-2012
Updated: 28-Jun-2012 08:58 AM

UPDATE:   Government Executive magazine reports that the House Appropriations Committee approved the $36 million reprogramming on June 27.

ORIGINAL STORY: A National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) internal investigation that discovered the illegal reprogramming of millions of dollars in appropriated funds at its National Weather Service (NWS) found no evidence of financial personal gain, but these actions were “very clever” and “hidden,” according to Dr. Jane Lubchenco, NOAA administrator.

Speaking at a hearing of the House Appropriations Committee’s Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science (CJS) on Thursday, Lubchenco stated that before November 29, 2011, she had no knowledge of the alleged financial misconduct that resulted in the reprogramming of 4 percent of the NWS budget without congressional approval.  Within 48 hours of learning about the allegations, she set in motion 12 corrective actions and launched the internal investigation that culminated in May, she stated.  

Summarizing the results of the investigation into the unauthorized reprogramming of funds in FY2010 and FY2011, Lubchenco made a point to say that these actions were carried out by three individuals within the NWS, while stressing that its mission was not compromised. Still, she described it as “very wrong and, in my view, gross misconduct.”

To delve more deeply into the issue, the agency will release a contract for an independent study -- a “deeper dive” -- she said, to identify the true extent and motivations of these actions. She reiterated that there was no external indication that something was wrong, “no red flags” or “obvious warning.”

CJS Chairman Frank Wolf (R-VA) described the findings as “very serious and disturbing” and expressed repeated concerns that NOAA’s missions to protect life and property were suffering.  He said that the mission of the NWS remains “one of the highest priorities” and that if the Department of Commerce (DOC), of which NOAA is part, had requested help, “we would have worked with you.”

NOAA is requesting congressional approval to officially reprogram $36 million in the current fiscal year ((FY2012) to allow NWS core services to continue.  Otherwise there will be unavoidable furloughs for NWS employees.  The CJS subcommittee submitted 65 questions for the record and tasked Lubchenco with responding to them by Monday at 5:30 pm in order not to hold up the process to consider the request.

In the meantime, Senate appropriators announced that they will approve the reprogramming.  

Looking beyond NOAA, several House CJS subcommittee members expressed frustration that the NWS action was, in their view, just one more of recent examples of agency misconduct.  Representatives Jo Bonner (R-AL) and John Culberson (R-TX) asserted that this kind of mismanagement is not limited to NOAA or even the DOC.  Alluding to the Secret Service scandal, Bonner said that the NWS issue was “part of a pattern” and another example of an Administration with an “attitude of just ignoring Congress when it pleases those in a position to do so.”  Culberson agreed that “this is the tip of the iceberg…it’s bigger than just NOAA.”

Rep. Chaka Fattah (D-PA), ranking member of the CJS subcommittee, retorted that it was “slightly tainted” to blame the Obama Administration when the responsibility rests on the three individuals involved who likely came into the agency during a previous, Republican, administration.

While saying that this was not a partisan issue, Wolf noted that there has been a shift in attitudes and “the agencies really don’t like Congress.”   Therefore, he said, dealing with the misconduct at the NWS would send a message to the rest of the federal government of the importance of following the law.


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