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UPDATED: Proenza out as hurricane center chief


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Storm intensifies as forecasters want director removed

The director of the hurricane center confronted a new challenge as three top forecasters called for his departure.

BY MARTIN MERZER

mmerzer@MiamiHerald.com

 

Three senior forecasters at the National Hurricane Center called Tuesday for the ouster of recently appointed director Bill Proenza, saying he has damaged public confidence in their forecasts, fractured morale and lost their support.

 

''I don't think that Bill can continue here,'' said James Franklin, one of five senior forecasters at the center. ``I don't think he can be an effective leader.''

 

Two others -- Richard Pasch and Rick Knabb -- told The Miami Herald that they concur.

 

''We need a change of leadership here at the hurricane center,'' Pasch said. ``It's pretty much as simple as that.''

 

The open rebellion flared as an ''assessment team'' dispatched by Proenza's superiors in Washington spent a second day at the hurricane center in West Miami-Dade County. The team is trying to determine whether forecasters can fulfill their mission under the outspoken and controversial director.

 

Some forces expressed support for Proenza, but with pressure intensifying from within and without, Proenza's grip on the $150,000-a-year job he accepted just six months ago seemed increasingly at risk.

 

He said late Tuesday that he will not resign and blamed the center's morale problems on ''Washington harassment,'' a reference to a letter of reprimand he received last month and the unannounced inspection by five federal officials, including a lawyer who specializes in personnel matters.

 

''It is my intention to continue to be the director of the National Hurricane Center and not in any way hesitate to do what I need to do,'' said Proenza, 62, a weather-service forecaster and manager for more than 40 years. ``We are ready to carry out our mission and we will move forward.''

 

CRITIQUES LEADERS

 

Since taking the most prominent government job in meteorology, Proenza repeatedly has criticized his bosses at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, saying they have not provided the hurricane center with adequate research funds and failed to plan for the eventual demise of an important weather satellite.

 

He has been widely viewed as the underdog in a David vs. Goliath battle against the federal bureaucracy, a scenario the forecasters called misleading.

 

''The public debate has been extremely one-sided,'' said Franklin, who has been at the center since 1999 and with NOAA since 1982. ``Bill is viewed as a hero in the media for speaking up against NOAA management and he is portrayed as having the support of his staff.

 

''But the hurricane specialists, by and large, do not agree with much of what he has done,'' Franklin said.

 

In any event, as the drama played out, the climate at the hurricane center turned stormy. Some lower-ranking members of the staff support Proenza, and shouting matches between the two camps erupted Tuesday, several people said.

 

The turmoil and distractions come at an inopportune time.

 

The hurricane season began June 1 and runs through Nov. 30. It has been relatively tame so far, but forecasters monitored a disturbance Tuesday in the Atlantic Ocean and said the tropics were likely to heat up later this month or in August.

 

Craig Fugate, director of Florida's emergency management division, originally supported Proenza but said Tuesday he is growing concerned about the situation.

 

''It certainly is disconcerting that we are now dealing with these issues in the middle of the hurricane season,'' Fugate said.

 

Should Proenza stay or go?

 

''I think NOAA needs to make a decision,'' Fugate said. ``Whether Bill stays or leaves, there has to be a resolution and they have to move on very quickly.''

 

At the same time, everyone on both sides of the battle -- and some knowledgeable outsiders -- insisted that the hurricane center is fully prepared to meet its obligations.

 

''The public has to know that the staff of the National Hurricane Center is still intact and it is a superb staff and their forecasts will be as good as ever,'' said former center director Max Mayfield.

 

Mayfield said he spoke with Proenza late Monday and again Tuesday morning and advised him to make peace with his high-ranking forecasters.

 

''I told him that he needs to be listening to his staff,'' Mayfield said.

 

Forecaster Lixion Avila, who ignited the public phase of the rebellion Monday night in comments to The Miami Herald that were critical of Proenza, said Tuesday that he was not ready to join the call for Proenza's departure.

 

''I've lost a little bit of faith in him,'' Avila said, ``but I don't want to be part of his removal or support him to stay.''

 

The fifth senior forecaster, Jack Beven, was on vacation and unavailable to comment.

 

AN OVERREACTION?

 

Staff members who support Proenza said they believed the rebellious forecasters were overreacting to recent events and were upset by Proenza's management style and operational changes he has requested, including alterations to some forecast maps.

 

''I bring new ideas,'' Proenza said. ``I come in from outside and look at things with a fresher view.''

 

The forecasters rejected that explanation.

 

''I don't consider any of this to be an issue of style,'' Knabb said. ``I consider this to be an issue of substance.''

 

He, his colleagues and Mayfield said Proenza has exaggerated the magnitude of the satellite issue, unintentionally leaving the public -- and Congress -- with the impression that forecasters are not capable of doing their jobs.

 

That controversy involves a satellite called QuikScat, which measures wind speeds over the distant ocean and is operating beyond its designed life span without a replacement under construction.

 

No one doubts the satellite's importance when it comes to storms far out to sea, but the senior forecasters said its loss would not compromise the accuracy of forecasts of storms that are approaching land -- the most important forecasts they issue.

 

Hurricane-hunter planes provide much more crucial data about those threats.

 

''If I'm the director of the hurricane center, I would not spend my time fighting for QuikScat,'' Avila said.

 

``I would be fighting to make sure that the reconnaissance planes are always there.''

 

In response to Proenza's comments, some members of Congress have suggested transferring funds from hurricane-hunter missions to development of a QuikScat replacement. That could lead to disaster, the forecasters said.

 

''There's not a forecaster here who believes that QuikScat is more important than reconnaissance flights,'' Franklin said.

 

Some forecasters also believe that Proenza -- who has never served as a frontline hurricane forecaster -- is more regal in his approach than his predecessors, and they worry about the consequences if and when a major storm threatens land.

 

''From my point of view, by the way I've seen previous directors work, I don't see the concept of a team player,'' said Pasch, who has been at the hurricane center since 1989.

 

He and the other forecasters said they were reluctantly lining up against their boss, but believed they had no other choice.

 

''There is a certain amount of risk associated with this, but we feel we have to do it,'' Pasch said. ``We think it's in the best interests of the nation, the best interests of the hurricane warning system.''

After all the reading I have done on this, for these 3 senior forecasters (along with another in Avila) publicly commenting on Proenza's departure........we should start taking odds on which month he will be gone in.

 

Too much noise from a very small building.

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Storm intensifies as forecasters want director removed

The director of the hurricane center confronted a new challenge as three top forecasters called for his departure.

BY MARTIN MERZER

mmerzer@MiamiHerald.com

 

Three senior forecasters at the National Hurricane Center called Tuesday for the ouster of recently appointed director Bill Proenza, saying he has damaged public confidence in their forecasts, fractured morale and lost their support.

 

''I don't think that Bill can continue here,'' said James Franklin, one of five senior forecasters at the center. ``I don't think he can be an effective leader.''

 

Two others -- Richard Pasch and Rick Knabb -- told The Miami Herald that they concur.

 

''We need a change of leadership here at the hurricane center,'' Pasch said. ``It's pretty much as simple as that.''

 

The open rebellion flared as an ''assessment team'' dispatched by Proenza's superiors in Washington spent a second day at the hurricane center in West Miami-Dade County. The team is trying to determine whether forecasters can fulfill their mission under the outspoken and controversial director.

 

Some forces expressed support for Proenza, but with pressure intensifying from within and without, Proenza's grip on the $150,000-a-year job he accepted just six months ago seemed increasingly at risk.

 

He said late Tuesday that he will not resign and blamed the center's morale problems on ''Washington harassment,'' a reference to a letter of reprimand he received last month and the unannounced inspection by five federal officials, including a lawyer who specializes in personnel matters.

 

''It is my intention to continue to be the director of the National Hurricane Center and not in any way hesitate to do what I need to do,'' said Proenza, 62, a weather-service forecaster and manager for more than 40 years. ``We are ready to carry out our mission and we will move forward.''

 

CRITIQUES LEADERS

 

Since taking the most prominent government job in meteorology, Proenza repeatedly has criticized his bosses at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, saying they have not provided the hurricane center with adequate research funds and failed to plan for the eventual demise of an important weather satellite.

 

He has been widely viewed as the underdog in a David vs. Goliath battle against the federal bureaucracy, a scenario the forecasters called misleading.

 

''The public debate has been extremely one-sided,'' said Franklin, who has been at the center since 1999 and with NOAA since 1982. ``Bill is viewed as a hero in the media for speaking up against NOAA management and he is portrayed as having the support of his staff.

 

''But the hurricane specialists, by and large, do not agree with much of what he has done,'' Franklin said.

 

In any event, as the drama played out, the climate at the hurricane center turned stormy. Some lower-ranking members of the staff support Proenza, and shouting matches between the two camps erupted Tuesday, several people said.

 

The turmoil and distractions come at an inopportune time.

 

The hurricane season began June 1 and runs through Nov. 30. It has been relatively tame so far, but forecasters monitored a disturbance Tuesday in the Atlantic Ocean and said the tropics were likely to heat up later this month or in August.

 

Craig Fugate, director of Florida's emergency management division, originally supported Proenza but said Tuesday he is growing concerned about the situation.

 

''It certainly is disconcerting that we are now dealing with these issues in the middle of the hurricane season,'' Fugate said.

 

Should Proenza stay or go?

 

''I think NOAA needs to make a decision,'' Fugate said. ``Whether Bill stays or leaves, there has to be a resolution and they have to move on very quickly.''

 

At the same time, everyone on both sides of the battle -- and some knowledgeable outsiders -- insisted that the hurricane center is fully prepared to meet its obligations.

 

''The public has to know that the staff of the National Hurricane Center is still intact and it is a superb staff and their forecasts will be as good as ever,'' said former center director Max Mayfield.

 

Mayfield said he spoke with Proenza late Monday and again Tuesday morning and advised him to make peace with his high-ranking forecasters.

 

''I told him that he needs to be listening to his staff,'' Mayfield said.

 

Forecaster Lixion Avila, who ignited the public phase of the rebellion Monday night in comments to The Miami Herald that were critical of Proenza, said Tuesday that he was not ready to join the call for Proenza's departure.

 

''I've lost a little bit of faith in him,'' Avila said, ``but I don't want to be part of his removal or support him to stay.''

 

The fifth senior forecaster, Jack Beven, was on vacation and unavailable to comment.

 

AN OVERREACTION?

 

Staff members who support Proenza said they believed the rebellious forecasters were overreacting to recent events and were upset by Proenza's management style and operational changes he has requested, including alterations to some forecast maps.

 

''I bring new ideas,'' Proenza said. ``I come in from outside and look at things with a fresher view.''

 

The forecasters rejected that explanation.

 

''I don't consider any of this to be an issue of style,'' Knabb said. ``I consider this to be an issue of substance.''

 

He, his colleagues and Mayfield said Proenza has exaggerated the magnitude of the satellite issue, unintentionally leaving the public -- and Congress -- with the impression that forecasters are not capable of doing their jobs.

 

That controversy involves a satellite called QuikScat, which measures wind speeds over the distant ocean and is operating beyond its designed life span without a replacement under construction.

 

No one doubts the satellite's importance when it comes to storms far out to sea, but the senior forecasters said its loss would not compromise the accuracy of forecasts of storms that are approaching land -- the most important forecasts they issue.

 

Hurricane-hunter planes provide much more crucial data about those threats.

 

''If I'm the director of the hurricane center, I would not spend my time fighting for QuikScat,'' Avila said.

 

``I would be fighting to make sure that the reconnaissance planes are always there.''

 

In response to Proenza's comments, some members of Congress have suggested transferring funds from hurricane-hunter missions to development of a QuikScat replacement. That could lead to disaster, the forecasters said.

 

''There's not a forecaster here who believes that QuikScat is more important than reconnaissance flights,'' Franklin said.

 

Some forecasters also believe that Proenza -- who has never served as a frontline hurricane forecaster -- is more regal in his approach than his predecessors, and they worry about the consequences if and when a major storm threatens land.

 

''From my point of view, by the way I've seen previous directors work, I don't see the concept of a team player,'' said Pasch, who has been at the hurricane center since 1989.

 

He and the other forecasters said they were reluctantly lining up against their boss, but believed they had no other choice.

 

''There is a certain amount of risk associated with this, but we feel we have to do it,'' Pasch said. ``We think it's in the best interests of the nation, the best interests of the hurricane warning system.''

After all the reading I have done on this, for these 3 senior forecasters (along with another in Avila) publicly commenting on Proenza's departure........we should start taking odds on which month he will be gone in.

 

Too much noise from a very small building.

July would be odds-on. He'll probably be gone by weeks end. This does come at the worst possible time. Best to deal with it immediately. If a leader has lost the support of his people he should resign(can you here me Dubya?). I've ben following this story for months. Proenza is not the good guy here speaking out against the system. His main criticism has been how the loss of the Quik-Sat satellite would hinder forecasts by 15% or so. Unfortunately, he has some highly questionable facts to back up this number. Most meteorologists believe the real forecast loss would be 0-3%

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Hurricane Center Staffers Call For Director To Be Replaced

Director Bill Proenza On Firing Line

 

POSTED: 10:56 pm EDT July 5, 2007

UPDATED: 7:53 am EDT July 6, 2007

 

 

MIAMI -- Nearly half of the employees of the National Hurricane Center urged the federal government to replace their director, saying they needed to return their focus to protecting people from dangerous tropical weather.

 

A growing number of staffers believe that center Director Bill Proenza has damaged public confidence in their ability to forecast storms. Proenza has repeatedly and publicly criticized the government for failing to provide enough funding and to replace an aging weather satellite.

 

"The effective functioning of the National Hurricane Center is at stake," the 23 staffers said in a letter. "The staff of the National Hurricane Center would like nothing more than to return its focus to its primary mission of protecting life and property from hazardous tropical weather, and leave the political arena it now finds itself in."

 

Proenza did not return a message left on his cell phone Thursday night after the staffers released the statement. But earlier in the day, he said he had spoken to two of the forecasters who previously had called for his ouster, and was confident they would be able to resolve the problems.

 

He blamed much of the problems on a Department of Commerce team sent this week to review the center's ability to provide accurate and timely information, and whether its management and organizational structure helps achieve its mission.

 

The team's report is due by July 20 to the Department of Commerce, which oversees the National Atmospheric and Oceanic Administration, the hurricane center's parent agency.

 

Proenza, the center's first Cuban-American director, succeeded Local 10's Max Mayfield in January after heading the center's southern region, which is headquartered in Texas.

 

The letter calling for Proenza's resignation was signed by 23 employees, including most of the senior and front-line forecasters who keep the public informed when hurricanes and tropical storms threaten, as well as computer workers and Proenza's secretary.

 

"The undersigned staff of the National Hurricane Center has concluded that 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 letter said.

 

Senior hurricane specialist James Franklin said in a telephone interview that Proenza had misrepresented what would happen if a key satellite called QuikScat failed. It is past its expected lifespan and is on a backup transmitter.

 

Proenza has said since March that if it failed, forecasts could be up to 16 percent less accurate. But Franklin said that while the satellite is important, it would not critically hurt forecasts.

 

One of the staffers who signed the letter, senior hurricane specialist Richard Knabb, had previously said that losing QuikScat would damage forecast ability.

 

Proenza still has the support of some staffers, although Franklin said about 70 percent of those who read the statement agreed with it.

 

Franklin said he wanted the public to know that the center was still able to give accurate forecasts.

 

"We have forecasters on duty right now that are doing their jobs. They will continue to do their jobs," he said.

 

None of the 23 staffers who signed the letter was willing to speak to Local 10, but earlier this week Proenza said, "We have never been more ready."

 

 

My hubby works down there (at FIU) and he called this morning to tell me there's a siege brewing. I guess the people are bringing their torches and pitchforks. Looks like the only thing this guy is guilty of is being aggressive in his job.

 

Max Mayfield is so happy he's working for Local 10!

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By MARTIN MERZERmmerzer@MiamiHerald.comNational Hurricane Center Director Bill Proenza lost his job today, in response to an unprecedented and unseemly mutiny that left him without significant support from his employees in South Florida or his bosses in Washington.

 

Proenza's departure ended a turbulent reign at the hurricane center that lasted only six months and was cut so short that it didn't include a single hurricane.

 

Federal officials named Ed Rappaport as acting director, said Greg Romano, a spokesman with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

 

It was not immediately clear if Proenza was ousted or stepped down on his own accord.

 

A veteran hurricane forecaster who is highly regarded by his peers, Rappaport had been serving as the center's deputy director. The appointment is likely to prove popular with the shaken staff.

 

Still, Rappaport, 49, faces several simultaneous challenges:

 

He must find a way to bridge deep divisions and repair fractured morale at the center.

 

He must restore public faith in the hurricane center and its forecasts.

 

And, most importantly, he must focus the staff's attention on the tropics during a hurricane season that has been charitably mild so far but is expected to heat up soon.

 

Proenza's resignation followed months of controversy, stirred largely by his attacks on superiors at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the National Weather Service.

 

He said they were squandering millions of dollars on a ``bogus(>>) NOAA 200th anniversary celebration (the agency was created in 1970 though several components are 200 years old) while hurricane researchers dealt with budget shortfalls and hurricane forecasters faced the eventual demise of an important satellite.

 

That satellite, called QuikScat, monitors winds over distant regions of the ocean and could fail at any time. No replacement is being built, though preliminary planning is under way.

 

Proenza adopted the issue as his own, frequently and passionately telling audiences and reporters that the satellite's loss would diminish the accuracy of two-day forecasts by 10 percent and three-day forecasts by 16 percent.

 

His forecasters agreed that QuikScat was an important tool but disagreed about the consequences of its failure. They said its loss could be mitigated through other means and, in any event, would not significantly affect forecasts of landfalling hurricanes.

 

They worried that Proenza's statements were undermining public faith in their forecasts, which generally are remarkably accurate. Without that faith, they said, forecasts might be disregarded by the public, leading to needless loss of life or property.

 

They seethed quietly for months, finally erupting last week after NOAA -- at the request of several of Proenza's employees -- dispatched to the hurricane center a team of five inspectors, including an attorney who specializes in personnel matters.

 

Arriving last Monday without advance notice, the team was assigned to determine if the center could fulfill its mission under Proenza's leadership.

 

That night, hurricane forecaster Lixion Avila opened the gates, telling The Miami Herald that Proenza was becoming a liability.

 

'I go to the Publix supermarket and they know me and they say, What's going on at the hurricane center? You can't make a forecast anymore,' (>>) Avila said. ``I have to tell everybody that I can make a good forecast.''

 

The next day, three other senior forecasters told The Miami Herald that Proenza needed to go.

 

''I don't think that Bill can continue here,'' James Franklin, one of five senior forecasters at the center, said last Tuesday. ``I don't think he can be an effective leader.''

 

Forty-eight hours later, nearly half of Proenza's staff signed and issued a statement demanding his ouster.

 

''The effective functioning of the National Hurricane Center is at stake,'' said the statement, signed by seven hurricane forecasters and 16 other employees, including many staff scientists and Proenza's secretary.

 

''The undersigned staff of the National Hurricane Center has concluded that the center needs a new director,'' the manifesto said, ``and with the heart of the hurricane season fast approaching, urges the Department of Commerce to make this happen as quickly as possible.''

 

In addition, some staffers claimed that roenza was tightly wound, difficult to work with and, at times, verbally abusive to some employees.

 

His supporters at the hurricane center and elsewhere said the forecasters and other critics simply were chafing under a new, assertive, more forward-looking manager than they had experienced in the past.

 

In any case, Proenza had precious little support in Washington, a factor that severely compromised his efforts to retain his job.

 

His frequent public attacks angered his bosses, who reprimanded him by letter last month and urged him to be more measured in his public comments and to work through official channels.

 

Throughout his career, which mostly involved managing weather offices, Proenza was known as an unusually outspoken federal employee -- especially when it came to defending local weather service offices against budget cuts or other perceived incursions by superiors in Washington.

 

A true federal bureaucracy, NOAA runs the National Weather Service, which in turn runs the National Centers for Environmental Protection, which in turn runs the Tropical Prediction Center, which in turn runs National Hurricane Center.

 

Despite that reputation, Proenza was handed the most visible government job in meteorology, taking over from the more relaxed Max Mayfield, who retired from federal service in January.

 

Asked during a preseason news conference in May about the controversies generated by Proenza, NOAA Administrator Conrad C. Lautenbacher Jr. claimed that hurricane research and forecasting budgets had been fortified in recent years and added:

 

``Mr. Proenza just took over the hurricane center and is known to be a strong and forceful advocate for his programs, and that's why we love him.''

 

 

 

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