Share this article

print logo

Weather Service chief retires as report blasts reallocation of funds

The director of the National Weather Service has retired after an investigative report found senior staff members at the agency had misdirected millions of dollars and operated "outside the bounds of acceptable financial management."

John L. "Jack" Hayes, assistant administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and Weather Service since 2007, retired Friday. That was a day after a departmental investigation said that for several years, the Weather Service has taken money Congress had provided for certain functions and reallocated the money to 122 weather offices around the country.

"The fact that the team did not find any evidence of fraud or personal financial gain does not lessen the severity of the misconduct," said a memorandum from Deputy Commerce Secretary Rebecca Blank.

The Weather Service's chief financial officer was replaced last year, and the department began investigating anonymous complaints about the misallocation of funds in 2010 and 2011.

Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, called the reports "deeply troubling."

"I am further alarmed that the investigative report raises fundamental concerns that the core operations of the National Weather Service are underfunded and that the current process in the Department of Commerce is broken," Snowe, ranking member of the Oceans, Atmosphere, Fisheries and Coast Guard subcommittee, said in a statement.

Hayes' retirement, first reported by MSNBC, came in the last paragraph of a news release Friday announcing that Laura Furgione would take over on an acting basis.

Hayes is a longtime NOAA official and a former Air Force colonel, and he is often the public face of the National Weather Service in times of extreme weather events. He did not mention the investigative report in a farewell he wrote to employees.

"It's been a great honor to serve with the men and women of the National Weather Service, but now it is time for me to move to the next chapter of my life and make room for the next generation of leaders," Hayes wrote.

Richard Hirn, general counsel and legislative director for the National Weather Service Employees Organization, said as much as $30 million a year has been "reprogrammed" in the past to avoid furloughs and layoffs in weather stations.

"Robbing Peter to pay Paul is what has been going on," he said.

He said the Weather Service is asking Congress for permission to repurpose $28 million for the rest of the fiscal year to avoid furloughs.

In other bad news for NOAA, a report from the Commerce Department's inspector general said the agency did not provide proper justification in handing out $43.8 million in performance awards to private contractors.