Monday, July 09, 2007

More flack at NHC

From Palm Beach Post here.
Not long after taking over in January, Proenza had earned both praise and scrutiny after criticizing his higher-ups at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration for spending on a National Weather Service birthday party and, most importantly, for not making firm plans to replace the aging QuikSCAT satellite. NOAA has argued QuikSCAT is just one part of its research arsenal.

Supervisors later scolded Proenza for his public posturing. And last Monday, NOAA sent the assessment team down. Then, later last week, some hurricane center forecasters publicly said Proenza had made too big a deal of the satellite. That led to Thursday’s staff memo, signed by 23 hurricane center staffers.

"The center needs a new director, and, with the heart of the hurricane season fast approaching, urges the Department of Commerce to make this happen as quickly as possible. The effective functioning of the National Hurricane Center is at stake," the memo said.

The NOAA assessment team had told employees last week in a message that it was returning today to be available to employees who had not had an opportunity last week, NOAA spokesman Anson Franklin said today.

"The independent assessment team is taking a look at a variety of issues involving operations at the National Hurricane Center," Franklin said from Washington. "That includes budget, technology and operations. They have a pretty broad mandate. We will just see when they finish what their findings are."

That report is expected July 20. Anson said NOAA had no official comment on the employees’ protest letter. And, he said of Proenza’s job status, "he’s still director of the hurricane center."

Update** Proenza has been replaced at the NHC, the mutiny has success:
Lautenbacher said the changes came as a result of the initial assessment of a team of inspectors, who found a high level of anxiety and disruption at the center -- too much for the center to adequately fulfill its mission.

About 70 percent of the staff last week called for Proenza's ouster, saying his public campaign for more federal funding was eroding public confidence in the center.

The trouble started about three months ago, when Proenza criticized his superiors at NOAA for failing to plan a replacement for the QuikSCAT satellite, which has outlived its life expectancy. He said when it dies, hurricane forecast accuracy will be significantly hurt.

Forecasters felt that he had misinformed the public, saying that they have the technological firepower to continue making accuracy forecasts.

Proenza was unavailable for comment on Monday. Officials said he returned to Fort Worth, Texas, his previous home, to take care of "personal business."

He was named the hurricane center director in January, replacing the popular Max Mayfield, who was known for providing a calm but strong sense of leadership.

Prior to coming to the hurricane center, Proenza, 62, was director of the National Weather Service's Southern Region, based in Fort Worth.

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