Subcommittee on Energy and Environment with the Subcommittee on Investigations and Oversight Joint Hearing - Tracking the Storm at the National Hurricane Center

Subcommittee on Energy | 2318 Rayburn House Office Building Washington, DC 20515 | Jul 19, 2007 10:00am to 12:00pm

Witnesses

Mr. X. William Proenza, Director, Tropical Prediction Center, National Hurricane Center, National Centers for Environmental Prediction, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

Dr. Robert Atlas, Director of the Atlantic Oceanographic and Meteorological Laboratory, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

Mr. Don McKinnon, Director, Jones County (MS) Emergency Management Agency

Mr. Robie Robinson, Director, Dallas County Office of Security and Emergency Management

Hon. Conrad Lautenbacher, Vice Admiral, U.S. Navy (Ret.), Undersecretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere and Administrator, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

Dr. James Turner, Deputy Director of National Institute of Standards and Technology

 

Press Release

REPUBLICANS OBJECT TO PLAYING POLITICS WITH HURRICANE FORECASTING

WASHINGTON D.C., July 19, 2007 – Republican Members today expressed objections to the majority’s holding an oversight hearing into an internal personnel issue involving the Director of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA’s) Tropical Predictions Center (TPC). Mr. William Proenza was named Director of TPC in December, 2006 and by July, 2007 was placed on temporary leave by the NOAA Administrator because Mr. Proenza’s superiors, employees, and an Independent Assessment Team had all expressed concerns over his management style.

“There is a fine line between good oversight and harmful interference,” said Subcommittee on Investigations and Oversight Ranking Member Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI). “Playing politics with hurricane forecasters endangers the lives of the people the TPC works to protect.”

“Admiral Conrad Lautenbacher, the Under Secretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere, replaced Mr. Proenza because he was an ineffective director.” Sensenbrenner continued, “In the spring of this year, Mr. Proenza made several exaggerated and inaccurate public statements complaining about a lack of resources and funding at the TPC, the potential failure of one of the government’s satellites, and NOAA’s use of funds for the 200th Anniversary celebration of the coast survey. In an independent assessment of the TPC led by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), reviewers observed that Mr. Proenza made statements about the limited lifetime of the QuikSCAT satellite and the resulting impact on forecasts ‘without context or caveat.’ The reviewers further reported that many staff believed that Mr. Proenza intentionally misrepresented their views and repeated certain false claims even after he was corrected.

“None of us are strangers to politics,” Sensenbrenner concluded, “but to disregard our country’s readiness to obtain a political advantage extends beyond recklessness. I am disappointed that I have to state what should be obvious, that unwarranted interference with the operation of a small hurricane center at its most critical time can only cause more harm than good.”

On June 18, Mary Glackin, the Acting Director of the National Weather Service, received phone calls from 11 employees of the TPC, including 7 out of the 9 hurricane forecasters, raising concerns about Mr. Proenza’s leadership. The employees complained that Mr. Proenza interfered with their ability to do their jobs. On June 19, Ms. Glackin communicated her fears to Admiral Lautenbacher, who in turn sent an Independent Assessment Team to report on the situation.

Subcommittee on Energy and Environment Ranking Member Bob Inglis (R-SC) praised the Administrator for handling the situation appropriately. He said, “It appears that the Administration put a highly recommended and well qualified director into the office of Hurricane Director. Thereafter, about half of the staff at the Hurricane Center signed a letter asking that Mr. Proenza be removed… In any event, the Administrator did the right thing by appointing an independent panel to investigate the situation.”

Along with the assessment team, three senior forecasters called for Mr. Proenza’s removal and nearly half of the 46 staff members at the TPC signed a petition demanding his removal. On July 6, the independent assessment team requested that Mr. Proenza be placed on leave because he was jeopardizing the Center’s ability to do its job. Three days later, Mr. Lautenbacher informed Mr. Proenza that he was being placed on leave.

Upon completion of its report, the independent team’s recommendation stated that “The current TPC director should be reassigned and not be allowed to return to his position at the center. This should be done due to his failure to demonstrate leadership within the TPC.”

Representing the 25th District of Florida where the Hurricane Center is located, Committee Member Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart said, “It is unfortunate that Congress is focusing on personnel issues instead of the real issue, ensuring the safety of the American people and that the National Hurricane Center is prepared as we enter the heart of the hurricane season. We cannot loose sight of how important the work of these forecasters, scientists and meteorologists is. They have worked through countless hurricane seasons and have proven their expertise and professionalism.”

Testifying at today’s hearing were: Mr. X. William Proenza, Director, Tropical Prediction Center, National Hurricane Center, National Centers for Environmental Prediction, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration; Dr. Robert Atlas, Director of the Atlantic Oceanographic and Meteorological Laboratory, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration; Mr. Don McKinnon, Director, Jones County (MS) Emergency Management Agency; Mr. Robie Robinson, Director, Dallas County Office of Security and Emergency Management; Hon. Conrad Lautenbacher, Vice Admiral, U.S. Navy (Ret.), Undersecretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere and Administrator, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration; and Dr. James Turner, Deputy Director of National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST).

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