In a letter from his lawyers to officials at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Bill Proenza, who in July was removed from his position as director of the National Hurricane Center, charges that this action by administration officials violated the Whistleblower Protection Act.
The Associated Press reported on August 3:
Ousted Hurricane Center Director Wants His Job Back
The ousted director of the National Hurricane Center wants to return to his job and told superiors in a letter that they illegally retaliated for his criticism of an aging weather satellite. The letter, sent Wednesday by lawyers for the former director, X. William Proenza, said his removal violated the Whistleblower Protection Act. In addition, the letter said, hurricane center employees were intimidated “into speaking adversely about Mr. Proenza.” Mr. Proenza’s lawyer said she had not heard from National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration officials in response. Mr. Proenza was placed on leave on July 7, after almost half his staff signed a statement urging his dismissal.
The Miami Herald reported:
In a lengthy letter to NOAA Administrator Conrad Lautenbacher Jr., Proenza’s lawyers said Proenza—who had been publicly critical of his superiors in Washington—was the victim of retaliation by Lautenbacher.
In addition, the lawyers said, an unflattering report about Proenza produced by an investigative team assigned by Lautenbacher was inaccurate, unsubstantiated and incomplete.
‘‘Mr. Proenza should not be reassigned from his position,’’ lawyers Jessica Parks and Cathy Harris wrote. “The assessment report identified neither any functional problems in executing the mission nor lack of center preparedness.
‘‘The only disruption to operations has been the disruption caused by NOAA management and the improper manner in which the assessment was conducted,’’ the letter said….
Proenza’s lawyers maintain that his case comes under federal laws that protect whistle-blowers. They said he is being punished for criticizing NOAA managers for allegedly squandering money on a public-relations campaign while hurricane researchers and forecasters dealt with budget shortfalls.
In addition, Proenza repeatedly slammed NOAA for failing to replace the QuikScat weather satellite, which could fail at any time and is an important forecasting tool.
`AGENTS OF CHANGE’
The letter characterized Proenza’s actions as adhering to “one of the highest priorities of the [hurricane center] director—to identify the needs of the nation’s hurricane warning program now and into the future.”
‘‘Apparently his recommendations for change may have alienated some staff members,’’ the letter said. “But agents of change often ruffle some feathers, and a true leader should be encouraged by upper management to lead the way toward a better-equipped hurricane center.’‘
The House Committee on Science and Technology held a hearing on July 19 (“Tracking the Storm at the National Hurricane Center”) at which Proenza and NOAA Administrator Vice Adm. Conrad Lautenbacher testified.
Federal News Radio reported on the hearing:
Under questioning from North Carolina’s Brad Miller, the Democrat who chairs the Investigations and Oversight panel, Proenza said his hard lobbying for more money to quickly replace the valued QuickSCAT satellite was met by a call from one of his bosses, who told him, “you’d better stop these QuickSCAT NHC (National Hurricane Center) funding complaints. I’m warning you. NOAA, DOC (the Department of Commerce), OMB (Office of Management and Budget), the White House, excuse me, are pissed off.”
Proenza is reportedly undecided on whether to pursue legal action:
Proenza was placed on leave July 7, just days after almost half his staff signed a statement urging his dismissal. They said he undermined the public’s confidence in them by exaggerating forecasting problems they would face if an aging weather satellite failed.
A Department of Commerce team was brought in to investigate and said in a report that Proenza “failed to demonstrate leadership” and should not be allowed to return to his job.
Officials of NOAA are reviewing the investigation and have not announced their final decision on Proenza’s job status. A NOAA spokesman, Scott Smullen, did not immediately return a call Thursday.
Proenza, meanwhile, has not decided whether to pursue legal action, Harris said.
See our June 28 posting on this matter.