Members of Florida's congressional delegation Monday defended Bill Proenza, embattled director of the National Hurricane Center, blasting a critical letter he received from a supervisor and vowing to investigate the matter during Senate hearings.
At the same time, a spokesman for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the hurricane center's parent agency, said officials feared that the bureaucratic battle was becoming a distraction - at an inopportune time.
"We've had two named storms and we're not even in the meat of the hurricane season," said Scott Smullen, NOAA's deputy director of communications. "This is usually the time when we're preaching the message of preparedness to the American public."
On Capitol Hill, Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., Rep. Ron Klein, D-Boca Raton, and Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Miami, objected to a letter handed to Proenza by Mary Glackin, acting director of the National Weather Service, during a visit Friday.
Nelson called the letter a "blatant attempt to muzzle a dedicated public servant."
For those of you interested in the response from Congress, I have included Sen. Bill Nelson's full reply below.
June 18, 2007
The Honorable Carlos M. Gutierrez
Secretary of Commerce
1401 Constitution Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20230
Subject: National Hurricane Center Director Bill Proenza
Dear Mr. Secretary:
I received today a copy of a memorandum from the acting director of the National Weather
Service to Dr. William Proenza, the director of the National Hurricane Center (NRC). The letter
reprimands Dr. Proenza for actions he has taken since becoming director of the NHC.
Since assuming responsibility for the NHC, Dr. Proenza has spoken candidly about areas for
improvement in our nation's hurricane forecasting capabilities. He is particularly concerned
about the impending failure of QuikSCAT, our only current source for comprehensive ocean
surface wind data - data that is essential for accurately predicting the track of hurricanes. A lack
of planning combined with NOAA's mismanagement of the NPOESS program may leave us
without ocean wind data for as long as seven years. During that time, hurricane forecasts will be
up to 16% less accurate, leading to larger warning areas and the possibility of unnecessary
evacuations. By identifying these issues, Dr. Proenza was upholding the highest standards of
public service. Failure to have done so would have been a dereliction of duty from our most
senior hurricane forecaster.
Dr. Proenza is now paying a price for his principled actions. The memorandum from Ms.
Glackin is a blatant attempt to muzzle a dedicated public servant. I note that nowhere in her
letter does Ms. Glackin take issue with the substance ofDr. Proenza's complaints. Clearly there
are parties within NOAA who don't appreciate having their shortcomings identified to the public
and Congress. However, shooting the messenger is not an acceptable response from those in
positions of executive management in federal agencies.
I would hope that the letter of reprimand could be rescinded, and that Dr. Proenza instead could
be commended for his commitment to effective government and public safety. I note that the
Senate Commerce Committee plans a hearing in early July to examine the QuikSCAT issue, and I intend to use that opportunity to investigate whether officials who raise valid safety concerns are experiencing retaliation as a result.
Bill Nelson, Chairman
Subcommittee on Space, Aeronautics, and Related Sciences
Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation