Jane Lubchenco, administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, testifies during a June 21 hearing in Washington. (Thomas Brown / Staff)
Investigators are looking into a complaint that National Weather Service staffers are still illegally moving money among accounts, months after the practice was supposed to have ended, according to the Commerce Department’s inspector general.
The hotline complaint, received last month from a senior weather service employee, raised concerns about “a lack of sufficient oversight and appropriate measures to mitigate shortfalls,” the IG, Todd Zinser, told a House science investigations subcommittee at a Sept. 12 hearing.
“The complainant reported being told specifically to use funds from what the complainant described as ‘admittedly’ not the ‘right pocket,’ ” Zinser said in prepared testimony.
Investigators are assessing the complaint as part of a broader inquiry into how well the weather service and its parent agency, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, have dealt with the budget problems.
Lawmakers are already upset that National Weather Service officials had previously reprogrammed funds without approval from Capitol Hill. The “simple fact that these complaints are still coming in tells me that NOAA and the [Commerce] Department still have a problem on their hands,” Rep. Sandy Adams, R-Fla., said at the hearing.
In a May memo summarizing the findings of an internal investigation, NOAA Administrator Jane Lubchenco said the improper reprogramming took place in fiscal 2010 and 2011, but she has acknowledged that the practice could have started before then.
The exact amount of money involved remains unclear. The weather service’s then-director, Jack Hayes, retired May 29 after the investigation’s results were made public; also, weather service employees were briefly at risk of unpaid furloughs after annoyed lawmakers took their time approving a legal reprogramming request for almost $36 million.
At a June congressional hearing, however, Lubchenco stressed that new controls were in place to head off similar misuses of the budget process.
Although the investigation turned up no evidence that personal financial gain was a motive, she said, “what happened was very wrong.”