The Buzz

Hurricane Damage

Before the first big storm of the 2007 season has even been born at sea, a key forecasting center's director has been blown from his post. Just six months into his term, Bill Proenza, chief of the National Weather Service's National Hurricane Center, was put on leave. The action came after 23 staffers signed a statement in early July seeking Proenza's ouster because his statements were eroding confidence in center forecasts and he had "poisoned the atmosphere."

Proenza, who took over in January, had slammed the center's parent agency, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Agency, for spending too much on an anniversary celebration and too little on hurricane research. He scolded the agency for allowing the demise of a wind-monitoring satellite, suggesting its loss would reduce the accuracy of hurricane forecasts. The disgruntled staffers disagreed in their statement.

In a July 9 e-mail to center staff, NOAA Administrator Conrad C. Lautenbacher explained his decision to remove Proenza as a response to "a level of anxiety and disruption that threatens the [center's] ability to perform its mission." Before his ouster, Proenza had been given a letter from the acting head of NWS, Mary Glackin, saying his comments about the QuikScat satellite "may have caused some confusion about NOAA's ability to accurately predict tropical storms."

The hurricane center's deputy director, Ed Rappaport, is now interim chief replacing Proenza. He has been with the center for 20 years and was expected to succeed former director Max Mayfield, who retired in January. When Rappaport declined to apply, citing an illness in his family, Proenza got the nod. Now it falls to Rappaport to heal the staff split, mend fences with the center's parent organizations, restore faith in its forecasts and get the focus back on storms outside the building.

Found Money

Scouring the accounting books for overpayments to contractors isn't netting the Defense Department as much as it has boasted. A July 9 Defense inspector general report (D-2007-110) says the department credited recovery auditing for overpayments that were identified and returned by the contractors themselves.

In addition, the IG found that the Defense chief financial officer's office has failed to identify the components required by a 2005 Office of Management and Budget circular to perform the audits-those with contracts worth more than $500 million.

In its fiscal 2006 performance and accountability report, the department said it had found via recovery audits $170 million in overpayments. But vendors and other recipients of Defense payments found and repaid $64 million of that amount. Defense should have reported $106 million.

The report also notes that a recov- ery auditing contract managed by the TRICARE Management Activity to review medical education costs was improperly let.

Despite the generally gloomy tone of the report, the IG remains optimistic about recovery auditing, recommending that the entire department consider striking contracts to audit telecommunications payments similar to one awarded by the Navy in December. Navy feasibility studies performed before the award showed possible savings of 21 percent on the $951.6 million the service spends on telecommunications. Applying the savings rate department-wide, the IG suggested as much as $837 million could be recovered.

The CFO demurred on the grounds that the Navy audit program hasn't recovered anything yet so it's too soon to designate it as a best practice to be broadly imitated.

Accidents of War

From March 19, 2003, through May 19, 2007, about 622 military service members died from noncombat injuries in Iraq. More than 400 of those deaths resulted from accidents. The June 8 Safety Corner newsletter from the Marine Corps Center for Lessons Learned highlights noncombat injuries and urges service members to, well, be more careful, even at war.

"Despite advances in technology and training, noncombat injuries and fatalities have been common during operations in Iraq and Af-ghanistan, significantly decreasing operational efficiency," wrote center director Col. Monte Dunard. The leading causes of noncombat deaths are vehicle and aircraft accidents, he reported, while major causes of noncombat injuries include vehicle crashes, falls and sports. U.S. service members in Iraq and Afghanistan have suffered 8,000 vehicle accident injuries and 5,000 sports-related injuries, he reported.

Another common cause? Undignified incidents of pure boneheadedness, such as the corporal who injured his head falling out of his rack, the sergeant who burned both arms putting wood on a fire and the corporal who hurt his head when he fell while jumping over the hood of a moving car. Dunard's advice? "Play hard, fight smart and keep complacency at bay."

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