At NOAA, Making the Best of a Disaster to Build a Brand

By Stephen Barr
Tuesday, September 27, 2005

The National Weather Service is one of the government's top brand names. When storms and hurricanes threaten, the public and the news media turn to the NWS.

But when Hurricane Katrina roared across Gulf Coast states, the headquarters brass sent out word to make sure only the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration logo appeared on hurricane tracking maps, which draw hundreds of thousands of Internet hits.

" Scott Rayder [NOAA's chief of staff] has indicated that we should not have the NWS logo on the Hurricane Center's tracking map and asked that it be removed," an Aug. 31 e-mail said. "Could you please work with the appropriate people to make sure this happens quickly and let me know when it has so that I can let Scott know."

Weather Service officials replied that they had more important matters to deal with, such as trying to help colleagues in New Orleans who had lost their homes and coping with equipment loss and communication outages in the Gulf region.

"Removing a logo from a Web site falls to the bottom of the priority list given the large professional challenges and personal tragedies of NOAA employees in the area of impact," a Weather Service employee wrote back. "I hope NOAA HQ will keep things in perspective for future requests."

The flap offers a glimpse into the federal bureaucracy, which has had long-standing problems in crafting images and brand names that inspire public confidence. In recent decades, as more agencies have been lumped together to form conglomerates, it sometimes has helped to have a brand name when competing internally for mission, money and staff.

NOAA, for example, is part of the Commerce Department, a holding company that includes patent and trademark regulation, international trade activities, minority business development and economic growth. In addition to the National Weather Service and its Hurricane Center, the NOAA bureaucracy includes the National Ocean Service, National Marine Fisheries Service and other agencies.

"The Weather Service has great brand identity, and we're trying to build brand identity for other parts of NOAA . . . that NOAA does a lot more than weather and that there is more to weather than just the Weather Service," Rayder said. "We're trying to emphasize the NOAA team effort."

Hurricane forecasting is based on data provided by researchers, pilots and satellites and "is really hard," Rayder said. "It takes a lot of assets and capabilities."

Rayder is the first chief of staff at NOAA and oversees 115 people with a $25 million budget that supports the agency head, Conrad C. Lautenbacher Jr. , a retired Navy vice admiral. Rayder has served in the position since 2001.

The tracking map that caught Rayder's eye carried the official seals of the Weather Service and NOAA. Jordan St. John , director of NOAA public affairs, said Rayder's request to remove the Weather Service logo from the map would not have pulled hurricane experts off Katrina duty and will be handled by the agency's Web master "whenever it might occur."

Chertoff: No Reprisals

Michael Chertoff , secretary of homeland security, sent a memo to Department of Homeland Security employees yesterday reminding them that whistle-blower protection laws were enacted "to ensure a work environment free of unlawful discrimination and retaliation."

"I will not tolerate whistleblower reprisal," he said.

In the memo, Chertoff urged employees to learn about whistle-blower protections, including a relatively new law, the 2002 Notification and Federal Employee Antidiscrimination and Retaliation Act, known as No Fear.

Chertoff said "managers and supervisors found responsible for violating civil rights or whistleblower protection laws will be disciplined accordingly."

Union Back in Court

The National Treasury Employees Union announced that a federal court has granted its request to hold oral arguments on plans by the Department of Homeland Security to launch a personnel system that would narrow union rights and streamline employee appeals of disciplinary action.

The Bush administration has asked the court to modify an injunction and let the new personnel system proceed. The hearing has been scheduled for tomorrow, NTEU said.

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