Senator Condemns Unauthorized NWS Funds Transfers

National Weather Service Director Jack Hayes retired and a new acting administrator is taking over May 29, but U.S. Sen. Olympia Snowe says this doesn't end the matter.

National Hurricane Preparedness Week is taking place through June 2, but this week's start to the 2012 hurricane season is being overshadowed by a turnover at the top of the National Weather Service and a report showing NWS officials shifted $35 million in funding without approval during fiscal years 2010 and 2011.

Dr. Jane Lubchenco, administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, parent agency of NWS, announced May 25 that NWS Director Jack Hayes had retired and that Laura Furgione would take over May 29 as acting administrator for NWS. Furgione had been deputy assistant administrator.

Lubchenco's statement praised Hayes' accomplishments and thanked him for his service, saying nothing about NOAA's one-year investigation that concluded NWS headquarters employees "reprogrammed funds." The Houston Chronicle now reports the transfers were made to supplement employee salaries. NOAA now has filed a request asking Congress to permit moving $26 million into a budget for local warnings and forecasts and $9 million to a budget to upgrade radar to address the transfers.

U.S. Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, ranking member of the Commerce Committee's Oceans, Atmosphere, Fisheries, and Coast Guard Subcommittee, released a statement May 25 saying the NWS chief financial officer had moved funds without authorization to 122 weather offices nationwide. She called the reprogramming unacceptable. "The deeply troubling revelation that senior staff at the National Weather Service, which provides indispensable storm and weather forecasting, have been conducting improper and potentially illegal transfers of taxpayers' money is unacceptable," she said. "While the director of the National Weather Service has stepped down, there are many more remaining questions which require answers from both National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the Department of Commerce -– and any and all individuals who bear responsibility in this misconduct must be held fully to account. I am further alarmed that the investigative report raises fundamental concerns that the core operations of the National Weather Service are underfunded and that the current process in the Department of Commerce is broken, as it 'did not encourage questioning or provide independent channels for reporting dubious budget decisions.' At a time when our country is experiencing unprecedented fiscal challenges this assessment is simply intolerable.

"As a result, I am writing to the bipartisan leadership of the Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies Appropriations Subcommittee urging that the full Senate not consider its fiscal year 2013 funding bill until Congress can review the Administration's reprogramming request issued today -- and also undertake concrete steps to ensure our federal budget process is transparent, subject to rigorous debate, and ultimately prioritizing the safety and well-being of the American people who rely on accurate and timely information from the National Weather Service."

At about the same time, Lubchenco announced a new director is taking over at NOAA's National Hurricane Center in Miami. Rick Knabb, Ph.D., will start June 4. He most recently worked as an on-air tropical weather expert for The Weather Channel and prior to that job was deputy director of NOAA's Central Pacific Hurricane Center in Honolulu.

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