Sharpiegate: OIG Report Slams Commerce, NOAA & White House for Hurricane Dorian Actions

President Donald Trump redraws Hurricane Dorian’s path after the fact.

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

A government review of the Sharpiegate scandal has concluded that Commerce Department officials erred last year when they forced NOAA to issue a statement last year criticizing the National Weather Service (NWS) and backing President Donald Trump’s erroneous forecast regarding Hurricane Dorian impact’s on Alabama.

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Chairwoman Johnson Demands Cooperation from Department of Commerce on Hurricane Dorian OIG Report

Eddie Bernice Johnson

DALLAS (Eddie Bernice Johnson PR) – Today,  Chairwoman Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) sent a letter to Department of Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross regarding the July 1 memorandum sent to Secretary Ross by the Department of Commerce’s Inspector General, Peggy Gustafson. The memo expressed concerns over the Department’s efforts to obstruct the publication of a completed Office of Inspector General (OIG) report, which was provided to the Department on June 26 and due to be published on June 29.

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Chair Grijalva, Ranking Member Cantwell Urge Trump Administration to Stop Obstructing Release of Sharpiegate Report

President Donald Trump redraws Hurricane Dorian’s path after the fact.

WASHINGTON, D.C. (Raul Grijalva/Maria Canwell PR) – Chair Raúl M. Grijalva (D-Ariz.) and Senate Ranking Member Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), who lead the committees of jurisdiction over the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), wrote to Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross demanding that the Trump administration stop interfering with the Department of Commerce Inspector General’s (IG) “Sharpiegate” investigation that was scheduled to be released last week.

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Sharpiegate: Commerce OIG Summary of Findings on Hurricane Dorian Statement

This Copernicus Sentinel-3 image features Hurricane Dorian as it pummels the Bahamas on 2 September 2019 at 15:16 GMT (11:16 EDT). (Credit: ESA)

Evaluation of NOAA’s September 6, 2019, Statement About
Hurricane Dorian Forecasts
FINAL REPORT NO. OIG-20-032-I
JUNE 26, 2020

U.S. Department of Commerce
Office of Inspector General

June 26, 2019

INFORMATION MEMORANDUM FOR SECRETARY [WILBUR] ROSS

From: Peggy E. Gustafson
Inspector General

RE: Evaluation of NOAA’s September 6, 2019, Statement About Hurricane Dorian Forecasts
Final Report No. OIG-20-032-1

On Friday, September 6, 2019–the day Hurricane Dorian made landfall in the United States as a Category 1 hurricane–the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) issued an unsighed statement (Statement) [redacted at Department’s request while the Department and its interagency stakeholders complete a pending privilege review] The statement rebuked the NOAA National Weather Service’s (NWS’s) Birmingham, Alabama, office (NWS Birmingham) for a September 1, 2019, tweet that advised that “Alabama will NOT see any impacts from #Dorian” [redacted at Department’s request while the Department and its interagency stakeholders complete a pending privilege review]

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Sharpiegate: Commerce OIG Memo Accusing Commerce Officials of Blocking Hurricane Dorian Report

NASA astronaut Christina Koch snapped this image of Hurricane Dorian from the International Space Station as it flew more than 200 miles above the storm on Sept. 2, 2019. (Credits: NASA/Christina Koch)

July 1, 2020

INFORMATION MEMORANDUM FOR SECRETARY [WILBUR] ROSS

FROM: Peggy E. Gustafson
Inspector General

SUBJECT: The Department Is Actively Preventing OIG from Completing an Evaluation

This memorandum expresses my deep concern that the Department is failing to identify specific privileges and provide privilege markings to a U.S. Department of Commerce Office of Inspector General (OIG) evaluation, while claiming amorphous and generalized privileges, which effectively prevent us from publicly releasing the evaluation that is otherwise ready for release. Under the Inspector General Act of 1978, as amended, 5 U.S.C. App. (IG Act), OIG is an “independent and objective” unit created “to conduct and supervise audits and investigations relating to the programs and operations” of the Department.1 To promote and maintain this independence, the IG Act prohibits you or your staff from preventing OIG from carrying out or completing our work.2 Further, “[i]t is Department policy that all employees fully cooperate with the OIG” in its evaluations.3 This policy requires that all Department employees “shall make every effort to assist the OIG.” 4 As described below, that full cooperation and assistance is absent here.

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Sharpiegate: IG Accuses Commerce Officials of Blocking Release of Critical Hurricane Dorian Report

President Donald Trump redraws Hurricane Dorian’s path after the fact.

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

The Department of Commerce’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) has publicly accused department officials of preventing the public release of a report critical of actions taken by high-level department officials during hurricane Dorian last September.

In a memorandum to Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross posted on the OIG website, Inspector General (IG) Peggy E. Gustafson said officials have held up the report by refusing to identify specific sections that should be redacted because they contain privileged information.

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Johnson: Commerce Department Obstructing Hurricane Dorian Investigation

Eddie Bernice Johnson

DALLAS (Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson PR) — Today, the Department of Commerce’s Inspector General Peggy Gustafson sent a memo to Department of Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross expressing concerns over the Department’s obstruction of a completed Office of Inspector General (OIG) report.

The OIG report examines a statement issued on September 6, 2019, by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration regarding a tweet sent by the Birmingham National Weather Service forecast office.

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U.S. Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross Initiates Section 232 Investigation into Imports of Vanadium

Wilbur Ross

WASHINGTON (Commerce Department PR) — U.S. Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross has initiated an investigation into whether the present quantities or circumstances of vanadium imports into the United States threaten to impair the national security.

This decision follows review of the petition filed by domestic producers, AMG Vanadium LLC (Cambridge, OH), and U.S. Vanadium LLC (Hot Springs, AR), on November 19, 2019, requesting that the Department of Commerce launch an investigation into vanadium imports under Section 232 of the Trade Expansion Act of 1962, as amended.

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The Federation Praises Commercial Remote Sensing Regulatory Reform

WASHINGTON (NASA PR) — The Commercial Spaceflight Federation today praised the Department of Commerce’s release this week of a rulemaking that dramatically reforms the U.S. government’s regulation of the U.S. commercial remote sensing industry.

“We wish to thank Secretary Wilbur Ross, the Office of Space Commerce and its Director Kevin O’Connell, and NOAA’s Office of Commercial Remote Sensing Regulatory Affairs for publishing this forward-leaning, streamlined set of rules for this growing and important industry,”  declared Eric Stallmer, President of the Commercial Spaceflight Federation. “And we again thank Vice President Pence, the National Space Council, and its Executive Secretary Scott Pace for issuing Space Policy Directive 2 two years ago, which focused agencies across the government to minimize regulatory burden and streamline oversight.”

Up until now, the U.S. remote sensing industry has been governed by legislation and regulations written in the early 1990’s.  While capabilities and technologies have progressed over the decades, companies dealt with these outdated regulations, often prohibiting new technologies and disincentivising the industry.  License applications regularly took too long to authorize with little to no transparency into the decision making process. With these revised regulations, comes a new era for the remote sensing industry and as new licenses are granted, we hope to see these principles put into practice.

“Thank you to the Commerce Department for developing these new rules that reduce bureaucratic restrictions on industry so they can innovate faster, compete effectively internationally, and enable new applications for satellite observations of the Earth,” said Stallmer.  “CSF has fought hard for several years to promote legislative and regulatory reforms that would streamline these rules.  We believe that these new rules from the Department of Commerce are an important step forward to enable U.S. companies to compete in a growing international marketplace while protecting America’s national security concerns.”

Failure of Aging Satellites Could Leave U.S. Partially Blind to Space Weather

Diagram of DSCOVR spacecraft. (Credit: NASA)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Tne failures of three aging satellites the United States relies upon to forecast space weather could leave the nation partially blind to electromagnetic storms that could severely disrupt electrical grids, communications systems, aviation and Global Positioning System (GPS) dependent navigation.

“The observations that we rely on to provide alerts and warnings are critical. Should we lose some of the key spacecraft that we talk about, I won’t say we’re blind but we’re darn close. It will impact our ability to support this nation’s need for space weather services. And I don’t want to see that happen,” said William Murtagh, director of NOAA’s Space Weather Prediction Center.

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Experts Say Much More Required to Avoid Satellite Collisions, Space Debris

Space debris

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Senate and House committees held hearings on consecutive days last week about space situational awareness (SSA) and space traffic management (STM), i.e., the ability to accurately track objects in Earth orbit and to avoid dangerous collisions that could knock out satellites and even render entire orbits unusable.

The overall conclusion was that, although progress is being made, we’re not nearly as aware as we need to be as orbital debris poses an ever bigger problem and companies prepare to launch tens of thousands of new satellites.

“Near Earth space is geo-politically contested, it’s commercially contested and it’s in dire need of environmental protection because it is a finite resource,” said Moriba Jah, an associate professor of astronautics at the University of Texas.

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Space Commerce Office Seeks Major Budget Increase

Wilbur Ross

The Department of Commerce’s Office of Space Commerce (OSC) is seeking a major boost in its budget from $2.3 million to $15 million for fiscal year 2021.

The office’s director, Kevin O’Connell, told a Senate committee on Wednesday that the bulk of the increase would go toward improving space situational awareness (SSA) so objects in Earth orbit can be accurately tracked and collisions that increase space debris can be avoided.

Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross wants OSC to be elevated from an office within NOAA to a higher profile bureau that would be headed by an assistant secretary. The new bureau would be in charge of non-military SSA activities and a host of other activities.

Congress has not approved either the creation of the bureau nor giving the Commerce Department authority over SSA. Different bills are pending in the Senate and House that address Ross’ plan and which government agency will oversee SAA activities.

Congress is now considering the FY 2021 budget proposal, which the Trump Administration unveiled last Monday.

Trump Nominates Jacobs as NOAA Administrator

Neil Jacobs

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Nearly three years into Donald Trump’s term as president, NOAA might actually get a permanent administrator.

On Wednesday, Trump nominated Neil Jacobs to serve as the Department of Commerce’s under secretary for Oceans and Atmosphere, which is another name for NOAA administrator.

Jacobs is serving as acting NOAA administrator in his current position as assistant secretary of commerce for Environmental Observation and Prediction.

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Johnson: Commerce Dept Not Cooperating with SharpieGate Investigation

President Donald Trump redraws Hurricane Dorian’s path after the fact.

WASHINGTON, DC (House Science Committee PR) – Today, Chairwoman Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) sent a follow up letter to Department of Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross on the Department’s involvement in the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) actions surrounding claims that Hurricane Dorian would impact Alabama. This letter follows up on the Chairwoman’s September 11 and October 10  requests for information.

“To date, we have received no responsive materials from the Department that would address the items in either of these letters, despite repeated follow-up phone calls and emails to the Office of Legislative and Intergovernmental Affairs,” Chairwoman Johnson said in the letter. “The Department of Commerce’s communications with the public on weather forecasting is a critical government function that depends on the public trust in order to ensure the health and safety of all Americans. The Department’s refusals to give a public explanation for its actions in early September and to cooperate with Congressional oversight after the fact are harmful to our national weather enterprise.”

A full copy of the letter can be found here.

U.S. Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross Signs Declaration of Intent with CNES

WASHINGTON (CNES PR) — On the sidelines of the International Astronautical Congress, U.S. Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross signed a Declaration of Intent with Centre National d’Etudes Spatiales (CNES) President Jean-Yves Le Gall. The Declaration charts a path forward for expanded cooperation between the Department and the French space agency on space situational awareness (SSA) and other important efforts driving the commercial development of space.

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