NOAA’s acting chief scientist, in an internal email obtained by ABC News on Monday, informed staff he wants to launch an investigation into potential policy violations involving a NOAA statement supporting President Donald Trump’s assertion that Hurricane Dorian threatened Alabama.
“My understanding is that this intervention to contradict the forecaster was not based on science but on external factors including reputation and appearance, or simply put, political,” said Craig McClean, who also oversees NOAA’s research division.
“I am pursuing the potential violations of our NOAA Administrative Order on Scientific Integrity,” McClean said in the email sent Sunday.
NOAA spokesperson Scott Smullen, in a statement a few hours after the Washington Post first published the email Monday, said only "senior career leaders are free to express their opinions."
"NOAA's policies on scientific integrity and communications are among the strongest in the federal government, and get high marks from third party observers. The agency's senior career leaders are free to express their opinions about matters of agency operations and science. The agency will not be providing further official comment, and will not speculate on internal reviews," he said.
Smullen said while McClean's probe would not be considered an agency-wide investigation, it would still count as an official NOAA investigation.
In an unsigned statement issued late last week, NOAA said the NWS Birmingham office, which originally contradicted the president's claim, before Dorian came near the Florida coast, that Alabama would be affected, was wrong to speak "in absolute terms" on Sunday when it tweeted: "Alabama will NOT see any impacts from #Dorian."
But Trump pushed back against that notion, even holding up an outdated map on Wednesday that had been altered with a black line over a portion of Alabama, extending the storm's "cone of uncertainty" to prove his original assertion that the state would be affected.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which oversees the National Weather Service and the National Hurricane Center, has traditionally operated independent of politics regardless of the party in control of the White House, but has become the latest agency dragged into a drawn out public battle between the president's political appointees and career agency staff.
Neither NOAA nor the White House has responded to questions about how the NOAA statement came about.
Meanwhile, employees at the National Weather Service are speaking out in support of their colleagues in Alabama.
“They did what any office would do to protect the public,” said Louis Uccellini, director of the National Weather Service on Monday. "They did that with one thing in mind: public safety.”
The National Weather Service Employees Organization, the trade union representing weather service employees, said it's taking their complaints with NOAA’s statement supporting the White House position to Capitol Hill.
"Never before has anyone tried to politicize weather forecasting,” said Richard Hirn, a union attorney. “As a result, the morale of the NWS has been totally shattered. These employees work under extremely arduous circumstances.”