Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.

U.S. President Donald Trump references a map held by acting Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan while talking to reporters following a briefing from officials about Hurricane Dorian in the Oval Office at the White House September 04, 2019 in Washington, DC. The map was a forecast from August 29 and appears to have been altered by a black marker to extend the hurricane's range to include Alabama. (Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Independent Probe Finds NOAA Officials Violated Ethics Rules by Bowing to Trump Foolishness During 'Sharpiegate'

The report comes as White House and state officials have been accused of manipulating scientific data regarding Covid-19 deaths and infections. 

Julia Conley

An independent investigation found Monday that the Trump-appointed leader of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and another former official violated the agency's scientific integrity policy last year when they released a statement backing up the president's claim that Hurricane Dorian was expected to hit Alabama. 

Last September, Trump claimed Alabama would "most likely be hit (much) harder than anticipated" by the Category 5 hurricane, contradicting meteorologists' projections that the storm would mainly affect Florida. 

After the National Weather Service's Birmingham, Alabama office tweeted that the president's claim was inaccurate, the president appeared in the Oval Office to display a map altered with a black marker to show the storm's path extended to include Alabama, in an incident widely derided as "Sharpiegate."

"We're about to be in another hurricane season and we're going to have more natural disasters like pandemics and there don't seem to be any consequences for manipulating the science, and that puts real communities, real people at risk."
—Andrew Rosenberg, Union of Concerned Scientists

According to the report Monday from the National Academy of Public Administration (NAPA), acting administrator Neil Jacobs and then-deputy chief of staff and communications director Julie Kay Roberts bowed to political pressure two days after the president's Oval Office appearance when they released a statement rebuking the National Weather Service.

"The Birmingham National Weather Service's Sunday morning tweet spoke in absolute terms that were inconsistent with probabilities from the best forecast products available at the time," said the statement.

NOAA's scientific integrity policy prohibits political interference in the agency's communications about its scientific findings. NAPA found that Roberts and Jacobs, a Trump appointee, violated the agency's code for science supervision and management by releasing the statement, which "compromised NOAA's integrity and reputation as an independent scientific agency."

"Dr. Jacobs and Julie Roberts did not believe it was a good idea to release a statement, but felt significant external pressure to do so," wrote Stephen M. Volz, NOAA's assistant administrator for satellite and information services, in a memo attached to NAPA's final report. 

The report did not recommend any consequences for Jacobs and Roberts, instead recommending "scientific integrity training" at the agency and calling on the Commerce Department's inspector general to investigate such violations.

Andrew Rosenberg, a former NOAA administrator who joined two current employees and Rep. Paul Tonko (D-N.Y.) in calling on NAPA to investigate "Sharpiegate," expressed frustration that Roberts and Jacobs would not be held accountable for their actions.

"This is important stuff," Rosenberg, who now leads the Union for Concerned Scientists, told The Hill. "We're about to be in another hurricane season and we're going to have more natural disasters like pandemics and there don't seem to be any consequences for manipulating the science, and that puts real communities, real people at risk."

The report was released following numerous reports of Covid-19 infection and death rates being manipulated by state public health officials. Rebekah Jones, a government data scientist in Florida, said in May that she was fired for refusing to manipulate numbers "to drum up support for the plan to reopen."

In early May, the White House Council of Economic Advisors released a model showing Covid-19 deaths falling to zero by May 15. Since May 15, there have been about 20,000 new cases detected in the U.S. per day, and deaths have gone up to more than 116,000.

Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.

We've had enough. The 1% own and operate the corporate media. They are doing everything they can to defend the status quo, squash dissent and protect the wealthy and the powerful. The Common Dreams media model is different. We cover the news that matters to the 99%. Our mission? To inform. To inspire. To ignite change for the common good. How? Nonprofit. Independent. Reader-supported. Free to read. Free to republish. Free to share. With no advertising. No paywalls. No selling of your data. Thousands of small donations fund our newsroom and allow us to continue publishing. Can you chip in? We can't do it without you. Thank you.

Sanders Vows to 'Stand With Rail Workers' as Republican Says Congress Will Prevent Strike

"Last year, the rail industry made a record-breaking $20 billion in profits," Sen. Bernie Sanders noted. "Meanwhile, rail workers have ZERO guaranteed paid sick days."

Jake Johnson ·

Massive Demonstration of Support for Lopez Obrador in Mexico City

AMLO was elected in 2018 and heralded as the Bernie Sanders of Mexico.

Common Dreams staff ·

Scientists Revive ‘Zombie’ Virus After 50,000 Years Trapped in Siberian Permafrost

Researchers documented 13 never-before-seen viruses that have been lying dormant, frozen in thick ice, over tens of thousands of years.

Common Dreams staff ·

'Cleaner Air Is Coming' as London Expands Vehicle Pollution Fee to Entire Metro Area

"Around 4,000 Londoners die prematurely each year because of long-term exposure to air pollution, with the greatest number of deaths in outer London boroughs," noted Mayor Sadiq Khan in announcing the expansion.

Brett Wilkins ·

'Amazing News': Historic Shark Protections Approved at Global Wildlife Convention

Up to 90% of sharks targeted by the lucrative fin trade will now be protected, said one advocate.

Julia Conley ·

Common Dreams Logo