Continuing their investigation of the recent controversy at the Tropical Prediction Center / National Hurricane Center (TPC/NHC), chairmen of two House Science and Technology Subcommittees have called on NOAA Administrator Lautenbacher either to reinstate the Center’s Director William Proenza or return him to the position he held prior to running the TPC/NHC—instead of subjecting him to a “drastic demotion,” which the Administration’s political agents at NOAA are apparently intending to do. In the letter, the Science Chairmen said it appeared Proenza had been treated with “little evidence of fairness” when removed from his post in early July.
The current administration has been aggressive in using and threatening federal managers with career-downgrading punishment for outspokenness. The net effect is to chill honest communication and keep civil servants intimidated about the consequences of raising issues that in any way question administration priorities, even at the expense of the public interest.
Investigations and Oversight Subcommittee Chairman Brad Miller (D-NC) and Energy & Environment Chairman Nick Lampson (D-TX) sent a letter on August 3 to NOAA Administrator Conrad Lautenbacher requesting that, if Proenza is permanently removed as TPC director, he be returned to his post as head of the Southern Region of the National Weather Service, instead of being made training chief of the little-noticed Office of Climate, Water and Weather Services. The Chairmen wrote that Mr. Proenza served the Southern Region with great distinction and that the position remains vacant.
The letter said: “Despite statements by you and others in the Subcommittees’ hearing on July 19 that Mr. Proenza would be fairly treated, we have seen little evidence of that fairness in either the report of the assessment team released at the hearing or in the actions of NOAA officials before or after the initiation of that report.”
The letter said that documents provided after that hearing revealed that NOAA officials had planned to move Mr. Proenza to the Office of Climate, Water and Weather Services even before undertaking any evaluation of his work, and even if the evaluation revealed no “mismanagement” by Mr. Proenza. The main reason given was his “misrepresentation” of the impact of the loss of the QuikSCAT satellite. Mr. Proenza was not allowed to respond to the report of the assessment team sent to evaluate the Center’s operations until after Admiral Lautenbacher received an “action plan” for responding to the report.
“We already received testimony that the White House was very upset with Mr. Proenza raising concerns about the possible loss of the QuikSCAT satellite before a replacement had been developed,” Chairman Lampson said. “We don’t want this extremely talented public employee consigned to NOAA’s backwaters because he spoke publicly about the potential loss of a critical satellite.” The letter pointed out that “Mr. Proenza’s controversial statements about effects of the possible demise of QUIKScat have motivated NOAA to begin the first real planning for the replacement of this satellite after years of documented concerns from the TPC and other NOAA staff.”