Charter Never Approved for Proposed Sandy Service Assessment Team, NOAA Says

By Jillian MacMath, AccuWeather.com Staff Writer
December 06, 2012; 6:01 AM
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Photo of cars underwater in the wake of Hurricane Sandy courtesy of Instagram user jesseandgreg

After the NWS has come under harsh criticism for the termination of the proposed Sandy Service Assessment team established to investigate their handling of Hurricane Sandy, NOAA has announced that the charter for the team was never officially approved and signed.

"Unfortunately, at least one team member was unaware that the charter was still draft and preliminary, and made their invitation public," NOAA's Assessment Overview release stated. "This apparently gave some in the public the impression that the proposed team had been officially chartered to carry out the assessment, when in fact the charter was not yet approved and signed," the release continued.

Confusion over whether the charter was signed and approved extends not only to the public, but to the proposed team as well.

"We'd been given a budget, supposedly, and we were moving forward. And we were making schedules as to how we were going to go about executing our duties as part of the team," Greg Carbin, proposed member of the first Sandy Service Assessment team and Warning Coordination Meteorologist for the Storm Prediction Center, said.

"I was working under the assumption that we were moving forward with this under an official capacity," Carbin said.

Mike Smith, Senior Vice President of AccuWeather Enterprise Solutions and proposed co-chair for the Assessment team, also believed the team had been approved.

"I don't understand NOAA's behavior throughout this unfortunate incident and why they have decided to raise even more questions by stating things that are not true," Smith wrote on his blog on Nov. 29. "I can provide the email approving the team, the team's charter and even the accounting codes we were given for expense reimbursement! The team was approved and we had begun work."

"I'm still not convinced that we have the full story of what's going on here," he told AccuWeather.com.

NOAA spokeswoman Susan Buchanan issued a statement Thursday indicating that NOAA will proceed with a Sandy Service Assessment, but the team will not include members from outside governmental agencies, as critics have called for.

The decision has come under fire by many who believe the assessment should include non-governmental industry members, or be entirely independent, due to controversial decisions made during Sandy, including the decision not to issue hurricane warnings north of North Carolina.

But the proposal to have Smith, the first-ever non-federal co-chair, raised questions regarding compliance with Federal Advisory Committee Act (FACA), the NOAA release explained.

A review by counsel and policy officials determined that the inclusion of non-federal participants on NWS assessment teams did not comply with FACA. On Nov. 30, however, Susan Buchanan wrote in an email that the decision to move forward without a non-federal co-chair was to avoid delays in the commencement of an assessment, not because of a non-compliance issue.

"...It was determined that this would require NOAA to comply with the Federal Advisory Committee Act (FACA), significantly delaying the start of the assessment," she wrote.

Smith disagrees.

"We've lost over a month. If they had been doing this in parallel, we wouldn't have lost any time at all," he said.

Though the original proposed Service Assessment Team for Sandy would have included the first non-federal co-chair, previous NWS Service Assessments have included non-federal team members without issue.

NOAA will have time to address non-federal participation on future service assessments by the start of next hurricane season, the release stated.

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