The issue intensified in Washington recently — complete with a pointed letter from a lawmaker — when the agency halted an assessment team co-chaired by one of those Weather Service critics, Mike Smith, a senior vice president at the private meteorology firm AccuWeather.
The Weather Service routinely sets up post-storm assessment teams, and in recent years has increasingly included non-government experts. Smith’s selection was significant because of his criticism and because he was the first member of the private sector that the agency has appointed to lead a team.
But on Nov. 15, the Weather Service abruptly stopped the team, saying the panel was moving prematurely and that there was the possibility of a “broader federal assessment” with other agencies.
Within days, Rep. Paul C. Broun (R-Ga.), chairman of the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology’s subcommittee on investigations and oversight, wrote to Jane Lubchenco, administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, about the decision and his concern that further delays may affect time-sensitive data collection.
“With each passing day, the next Service Assessment team may experience increased challenges in collecting the information it needs for a comprehensive report,” he wrote.
He also questioned whether the new assessment would include outside experts.
On Thursday, the Weather Service announced it had a new team from NOAA that was open to the Department of Homeland Security and other agencies but would not include non-government experts.
“While working on the initial draft Sandy assessment team charter — which would have included a non-federal co-chair for the first time — it was determined that this [co-chair] would require NOAA to comply with Federal Advisory Committee Act (FACA), significantly delaying the start of the assessment,” Weather Service spokeswoman Susan Buchanan said.
On Sunday, NOAA issued a statement underscoring the FACA compliance issue, adding that “by the start of next hurricane season on June 1, NOAA will have time to address non-federal participation in service assessments . . . in a more comprehensive and orderly fashion.”
Outside experts will still have a role in the NOAA assessment, Buchanan said, because conclusions “will be based in large part on input and information from external partners and stakeholders, such as emergency management officials and broadcast meteorologists.”