• Congress Wants Answers After NOAA Official Creates New, Higher Paying Job For Himself

    Earlier this month, it came to light that a top official at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration created a new contract position with the same responsibilities as his previous position, took that new job and got a $43,200 raise in the process.

    Now, the Senate wants answers.

    Senator John Thune, chairman of the Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee, sent a letter to NOAA Administrator Kathryn D. Sullivan demanding to know how something like this could happen.

    “The fact that senior agency officials approved this unseemly arrangement, which clearly warranted closer scrutiny, appears to be indicative of a potential agency-wide problem,” Thune wrote. “In order to maintain the integrity of the agency, NOAA’s officials must avoid conflicts of interest and adhere to and enforce federal hiring and contracting rules.”

    According to a report released by the Department of Commerce Office of the Inspector General, P. Donald Jiron, the deputy chief financial officer for the National Weather Service, an agency within NOAA, helped to write the job description and set the salary for his own post-retirement consulting job, and then returned to the office the day after retiring to perform the exact same job.

    On top of that, Jiron demanded a $50,000 housing allowance even though he wasn’t eligible for the housing benefit. The housing allowance was meant for senior government officials on temporary assignments at NOAA headquarters, not for outside contractors.

    The OIG report found that Jiron’s consulting gig was in violation of federal acquisition regulations and Jiron may have violated federal criminal law, though prosecutors declined to pursue charges.

    The inspector general also said Jiron pressured and bribed other NWS officials to hire his daughter as a contractor.

    “We conclude that senior official’s actions in attempting to influence the NWS staff were improper, and some of those actions may have implicated 18 U.S.C. § 201, the criminal statute prohibiting bribery of public officials,” the report said.

    Among other things, Thune asked NOAA to provide data about contractors pay compared to federal employees with similar job responsibilities, the most common jobs filled by contractors in the agency and details about the process involved in drafting a job description.

    The agency has until June 26 to provide the information.

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