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Press Releases :: October 7, 2005

Science Dems Recognize NWS for Hurricane Forecasting Work

Reiterate Call for Independent ‘Katrina’ Commission

The U.S. House Committee on Science today convened a hearing on hurricane prediction and seasonal activity.  Investigation centered on forecasting and modeling capabilities of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) – specifically the National Weather Service (NWS).  Witnesses included NOAA Director Brigadier General David L. Johnson (ret.) and NWS National Hurricane Center Director Dr. Max Mayfield. 

“This is a story about the power of science and the failure of government – plain and simple,” stated Ranking Member Rep. Bart Gordon (D-TN) at today’s hearing.  “The federal government has worked tirelessly to advance the science of hurricane prediction, and they’ve succeeded.  Federal dollars spent at the National Weather service yielded an excellent means of hurricane tracking and prediction.”

During hurricane season, NWS follows the path and strength of storms and issues watches and warnings in the event of severe weather.  NWS tracking and strength predictions for Hurricane Katrina at the end of August – both from their headquarters in Miami and their local forecast offices – were thorough and accurate.

“But somewhere along the way, we seem to have forgotten how to use that information and respond to real people in need.  Billions of taxpayer dollars spent at the Department of Homeland Security to respond to natural disasters evidently has yielded bureaucracy rather than action,” added Rep. Gordon.

To make clear what Mr. Mayfield told our nation’s top leaders, Ranking Member Gordon invited Mayfield to give the Committee and the country the same briefing he presented on August 28 to the President, Secretary Chertoff, then-FEMA Director Brown and emergency preparedness officials - using the same materials.  Mr. Mayfield recounted that he told briefing participants to prepare for a Category 5 hurricane – the most severe on the hurricane measurement scale.

“When it comes to Katrina, it is important to know who in the Administration knew what, when.  This isn’t about finger pointing – it’s about accountability and alleviating an obvious problem honestly and expeditiously.  I simply want to know how it is that the guy sitting next to you in class – that ‘guy’ being FEMA and the Administration – studied your notes, listened to the same lectures and still failed the class?” continued Rep. Gordon.

“We tell our kids to buckle down and work harder if they bring home a failing grade.  This Administration gets an F on response to Katrina, but I’ve yet to see subsequent efforts to buckle down and candidly face the task of securing America’s citizens and infrastructure for the next disaster,” said ETS Subcommittee Ranking Member Rep. David Wu (D-OR).  

Responding to reports that the Department of Commerce this week issued a blanket media policy to NOAA staff requiring all requests for contact from and with news media be first approved by the Department, General Johnson confirmed that message went out via email to NOAA employees.

“If this Congress is serious about getting to the bottom of events surrounding Hurricane Katrina, there’s only one way to do that – an open and honest analysis by an independent commission. We need transparency - that’s how we affect needed policy changes and assure Americans safety,” concluded Rep. Gordon.

Last week, Science Democrats issued a staff report entitled Failing to Protect and Defend: the Federal Emergency Response to Hurricane Katrina.   The report contains detailed information on the emergency response to Hurricane Katrina.  A copy of the report can be found on http://sciencedems.house.gov.   Copies of both Ranking Member Gordon’s and Rep. Charlie Melancon’s (D-LA) opening statements before the Committee can also be found on the Democratic website.


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