On Sept. 1, a tweet from President Trump set in motion a chain of events that led to some employees at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) being threatened because they wouldn’t alter their forecasts to fit the political winds.
Just as Hurricane Dorian was barreling towards the coast, President Trump tweeted that Alabama would be hit “harder than anticipated.”
To prevent unnecessary panic, a rush on food and water, or people hitting the road to escape danger causing massive traffic congestion and even more danger, the National Weather Service in Birmingham, Ala., corrected the president’s error, posting on Twitter that “Alabama will NOT see any impacts from #Dorian. We repeat, no impacts from Hurricane #Dorian will be felt across Alabama. The system will remain too far east.”
A few days later, Trump displayed a NOAA map that appeared to have been altered with a Sharpie pen to include Alabama in Dorian’s path. He spent the next few days claiming he was right. Then, on Sept. 6, NOAA issued an unsigned statement saying Trump was right and the Birmingham National Weather Service, which is part of NOAA, was wrong.
But according to news reports, behind the scenes Trump told staff that the nation’s weather forecasting agency needed to correct its statement contradicting him. As NOAA is under the Department of Commerce, Acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney called Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross to tell him to fix the problem. Ross then called NOAA acting administrator Neil Jacobs, who objected to the demand. Ross threatened to fire NOAA’s top officials if the situation was not fixed. The result was NOAA’s Sept. 6 unsigned statement.
AFGE expressed outrage that the White House had pressured NOAA employees to support President Trump’s erroneous hurricane statements or be fired.
“I am appalled by news reports that the White House orchestrated threats by Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross against NOAA employees. To pressure the head of NOAA to denounce statements made by professional NOAA weather forecasters in Alabama because their official opinion contradicted the president’s erroneous remarks about the potential impacts of Hurricane Dorian on the state is a truly pathetic misuse of time and attention,” said AFGE President J. David Cox Sr.
“Federal employees are hired to serve the public – not political appointees – and the administration’s attempts to discredit their objective and scientific reports to cover for the president’s own inaccurate statements is yet another attack on the apolitical civil service that must be answered,” he added. “Every federal employee takes an oath to support and defend the Constitution and faithfully discharge the duties of their office, which includes having the courage to correct misleading, outdated, or downright inaccurate statements about their work – even those circulated by the President of the United States.”
The NOAA incident is one of the latest examples of the Trump administration’s efforts to undermine scientific findings. It had scrubbed climate change info from the websites of the Environmental Protection Agency, the Energy Department, and the State Department. The political appointees at the Department of Agriculture refused to publish scientific reports on the effects of climate change. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention were told not to used words like “evidence-based" and "science-based." EPA political appointees blocked the publication of a report about toxic chemicals found in drinking water and household products in the U.S. and the list goes on.