Today, ousted National Hurricane Center director Bill Proenza told his side of the story before two congressional subcommittees. From 10am until 12pm EDT, the House Committee on Science and Technology held a hearing called, “Tracking the Storm at the National Hurricane Center”. You can check out some of the press releases and listen to a webcast of the hearing at the Committee web site.
Dr. Jeff Masters lists all those who are testifying in todays hearings and points out that it appears to be a little one sided:
The list of people testifying include Bill Proenza; QuikSCAT expert Dr. Robert Atlas; emergency management officials who worked with Proenza; and the head of NOAA, Admiral Lautenbacher. With the exception of Lautenbacher, all these witnesses are likely to be allies of Proenza. Also testifying will be Dr. Jim Turner, deputy director of the federal agency NTIS (National Technical Information Service), who led the inspection team that showed up at NHC without notice on July 2. Dr. Turner’s report was scheduled to be completed this Friday, July 20, but is now scheduled to be released to the Congressional panel today. Notably absent from the list of people called to testify is anyone from the National Hurricane Center. Also absent is a QuikSCAT science expert besides Dr. Atlas, who has thus far not addressed in his public comments, that I have seen, the very high uncertainties surrounding the impact of QuikSCAT data on track forecasts of landfalling hurricanes. In fact, in comments published in the Orlando Sentinel, Dr. Atlas claimed that Proenza’s statement that loss of the loss of QuikSCAT could reduce the accuracy of hurricane-track forecasts by as much as 16 percent represents “the consensus of the scientific community.” Well, that is not the case, as myself and senior hurricane specialists at the National Hurricane Center will attest to.
From the Houston Chronicle:
One question Ã¢â‚¬â€ what Proenza did to anger his employees in Miami just months after beginning his job Ã¢â‚¬â€ became clearer today, when a hurricane specialist outlined in the greatest detail yet why four of the five senior forecasters and half the center’s staff lost confidence in Proenza.
According to hurricane center employees unhappy with Proenza’s management: He lacked recent experience in hurricane forecasting and showed little interest in learning the science. He ignored employees to the extent that, at one point, he accumulated 2,000 unread emails from staffers. And, toward the end, forecaster Richard Knabb wouldn’t meet alone with Proenza because he felt his boss was deliberately misrepresenting his conversations.
“Bill seemed to have a problem with accuracy” said James Franklin, a senior hurricane specialist.
In Both articles, staffers also dispute the notion that they were some how pressured or coerced by NOAA Management in signing the July 5th letter.
Orlando Sentinel: Staffers at the center based west of Miami who signed a July letter that resulted in Bill Proenza’s ouster after only six months on the job blasted the hearing as a one-sided sham — and angrily objected to suggestions that some were “pressured” into signing that letter.
“It’s totally one-sided,” Vivian Jorge, the hurricane center’s administrative officer, said of the congressional inquiry. “And totally ridiculous. No one was pressured to sign that letter, but they aren’t calling the people who signed it to find it. Why not? I smell politics at work here.”
In a July 12 letter to Conrad Lautenbacher, administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, five Democratic House leaders wrote that “it is alleged that staff was pressured to sign on to what became a well-publicized letter of complaint” against Proenza.
That letter, signed by half the staff of the 46-member center, became the second part of a one-two punch against Proenza. In response to internal staff complaints about Proenza’s management, Lautenbacher days earlier had sent a team of investigators to determine whether the center could function under his leadership.
At the National Hurricane Center, several of the 23 staffers who signed the July 5 letter said congressional investigators were contacting only his supporters at the center, raising concern that the hearing is politically motivated.
Scoffing at the notion they were pressured to sign, they said the letter was drafted after a staff meeting and taken to a separate building on the Florida International University campus specifically to avoid anyone feeling coerced or obliged to sign it.
Said Lixion Avila, whose 18 years as a hurricane forecaster makes him dean of the center’s hurricane specialists, “I had no other option because he [Proenza] was going to the media, and the only voice being heard was his, and he twisted everything.”
Houston Chronicle: Despite rumors that the staff was coerced by NOAA management into signing the complaint Ã¢â‚¬â€ the letter from Lampson and other congressmen suggests the staff might have been “pressured” Ã¢â‚¬â€ Franklin said nothing of the kind happened.
In fact, forecasters were increasingly eager for a change in leadership, Franklin said, because Proenza had little experience in forecasting hurricanes and the peak of hurricane season, from August to September, was coming soon. In the past, Franklin said, forecasters would often use the director as a final check on a forecast before sending it out.
There was never any thought of doing the same with Proenza, as he wasn’t a tropical cyclone expert, Franklin said.
Throughout the ordeal, Proenza maintained that he had a difficult task coming in as an outsider in an organization whose leaders were normally promoted from within and already were inoculated with the culture. The staff angst, he said, was in response to change.
He is also not without supporters, as Thursday’s congressional hearing is likely to show.
There’s little question that he didn’t seek out the opportunity at the hurricane center Ã¢â‚¬â€ he never applied. As director of the southern region, he reported directly to the head of the National Weather Service and managed several hundred employees in local forecast offices from Albuquerque to Miami.
Although the hurricane center director has a much higher public profile, the position within NOAA’s bureaucracy is closer to middle management but carries the same pay grade. The director oversees a staff of about 50 people.
“I’d consider it a demotion,” Daniel Sobien, president of the National Weather Service Employees Organization said of Proenza’s move.
This story has been very interesting since it all started. It seemed to go from poor Proenza for getting attacked on criticizing NOAA and their lack of funding on the QuikSCAT to where we are now.
Hopefully these hearings will answer the following questions from the hearings charter:
Ã¢â‚¬Â¢ Why was Proenza chosen to be Director of the highest profiled Center at NOAA?
Ã¢â‚¬Â¢ Beyond the items listed in the Glackin memorandum–which NOAA stresses was not a reprimand document and was not placed in Mr. ProenzaÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s personnel file–are there any other actions that better justify the action to place Proenza on leave?
Ã¢â‚¬Â¢ Why was there such a depth of dissatisfaction over Proenza’s focus on a particular satellite?
Ã¢â‚¬Â¢ What is needed to properly equip the Tropical Prediction Center, and are those resources available at this time?
Ã¢â‚¬Â¢ Was the Tropical Prediction Center incapable of carrying out its core task of identifying, tracking and predicting hurricanes before the evaluation team was dispatched by Admiral Lautenbacher?
I will try and update on this later for Brendan. I figured as one of his guest bloggers and being a meteorologist, I would continue Brendan’s coverage on this topic. Probably not as well as Brendan would have. During the initial storm in early July I got most of my information from Brendan, so I wanted to help him out as he is on a blogging hiatus.
Since the hearings are over as I finish this post, again I will try and update when I can, but you can find more information over at Dr. Jeff Masters Wunderground Blog.