My previous post about the controversy surrounding NHC Director Bill Proenza paints him as a martyr to reactionary bureaucratic muzzling and the Bush Administration’s demands for blind loyalty. I’m not alone in that regard: the media, blogosphere, and other weather nerds have largely rallied around Proenza as a forward-looking hero, oppressed by The Man and supported by The Good Guys.
Alas, as with most things in life, it turns out it’s not that simple:
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.” …
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 addition to losing the confidence of forecasters Franklin, Pasch and Knabb — and, implicitly, Avila, though (as noted in Colin’s post yesterday) Avila is refusing to say so outright — Proenza has also lost the support of prominent weatherbloggers Dr. Jeff Masters and Margie Kieper, for relying on shoddy science to back his claims regarding QuikSCAT. Money quote:
It greatly troubles me that the most visible and admired member of my profession has failed to use good science in his arguments for funding a replacement of the QuikSCAT satellite. The Director of the National Hurricane Center needs to be an able politician and good communicator, but being truthful with the science is a fundamental requirement of the job as well. Mr. Proenza has misrepresented the science on the QuikSCAT issue, and no longer has my support as director of the National Hurricane Center.
Masters and Kieper hasten to add that they “strongly support many of the valid concerns Proenza has raised,” but they criticize him for focusing so much on QuikSCAT, at the expense of other issues:
Of particular concern are the slashing of critical research funding for the Joint Hurricane Testbed (JHT) from $1.7 million to $1 million, and the lack of adequate yearly increases to the National Hurricane Center budget. Both of these important concerns still remain to be addressed; they were quickly overshadowed by a frantic campaign by lawmakers to fund a new QuikSCAT satellite and by fallout of the remarks concerning the budget for the NOAA 200-year anniversary celebration. The JHT provides the means for promising research to be tested in the NHC operational environment, usually resulting in a successful transition to an operational product at NHC. This program has been extremely successful, and its budget should have been increased, not slashed. As hurricane activity has increased dramatically over the last twelve years, NHC’s budget should have increased accordingly, but it did not.
While wanting to take a neutral stand as to whether to call for Proenza’s dismissal, Senior NHC Hurricane Specialist Lixion Avila clearly shares the concerns that have been put forth by the other senior forecasters Richard Pasch, James Franklin, and Richard Knabb, and former director Max Mayfield. Avila noted, “If I [was] the director of the hurricane center, I would not spend my time fighting for QuikSCAT–I would be fighting to make sure that the reconnaissance planes are always there.”
It sounds to me like Proenza will most likely be replaced soon, and it sounds like that’s probably a good thing, in light of these latest developments. Whatever happens, it needs to happen soon, to prevent this sort of thing from continuing:
[A]s the drama played out [Tuesday], 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 NHC can’t afford to be bogged down in internecine bureaucratic warfare in the middle of a hurricane season that, climatologically speaking, is likely to get much more active soon.
UPDATE: The revolt widens.