Ousted hurricane center chief defends request for new satellite

The director of the National Hurricane Center, who was removed from his position July 9, said the center has never been more ready for hurricane season -- but he still questions why the Bush administration did not act aggressively to replace an aging satellite that provides key forecasting data.

The eight-year-old QuikSCAT satellite is used in climate monitoring, ocean research and weather prediction. This spring, when Center Director Bill Proenza drew attention to concerns that the satellite was operating on borrowed time, his supervisors at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration told him not to focus on the matter.

All the while, many employees at the center were expressing discomfort in a work environment that they said would not be cohesive during a hurricane situation.

On Thursday, Proenza testified before a tense joint hearing before two House Science and Technology subcommittees about the events that culminated in his removal.

Rep. James Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., asked that Proenza be "excused" from the hearing because he did not submit written testimony 24 hours in advance as the other witnesses had been asked to do. Subcommittee Chairman Nick Lampson, D-Texas, said he did not request written testimony from Proenza because individuals "who might be considered whistleblowers" should not have to submit written statements.

Sensenbrenner then asked that NOAA's chief, Vice Adm. Conrad Lautenbacher, be allowed to testify at the outset of the hearing instead of after Proenza. "I object and we will go forward with our [hearing] as planned," Lampson said.

The Democratic leaders said they wanted to determine whether Proenza was forced to leave due to mere office politics or to the revelation of a technological failing that should concern citizens. Republicans said all the fuss is due to Proenza's management style.

Subcommittee ranking Republican Bob Inglis of South Carolina said, "I think it is equally possible that we have a mismatched manager," that this is a personnel matter "and nothing more."

Proenza said, "I've asked myself why all this resistance" to working on a replacement for QuikSCAT. "And by golly, I'm going to pay the price for bringing this to the attention of the American people."

Lautenbacher testified that center employees said they feared Proenza would retaliate against them if he learned they were voicing their discontent. During a conference call with one of Proenza's superiors, employees said they believed the QuikSCAT issue had been overblown.

Lautenbacher added that an independent assessment team he dispatched on July 2 recommended Proenza should be reassigned due to his failure to demonstrate leadership, rather than because of his public statements about the QuikSCAT satellite.

"I'd like to note that the official forecasts of the Tropical Prediction Center do not come out of a computer," Lautenbacher stated. "They do not come from a single satellite. Hurricane forecasting, at its core, still comes down to a team of specialists coming together to analyze all available data and using their best expertise and wisdom to make a forecast."

Stay up-to-date with federal news alerts and analysis — Sign up for GovExec's email newsletters.
FROM OUR SPONSORS
JOIN THE DISCUSSION
Close [ x ] More from GovExec
 
 

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from GovExec.com.
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Going Agile:Revolutionizing Federal Digital Services Delivery

    Here’s one indication that times have changed: Harriet Tubman is going to be the next face of the twenty dollar bill. Another sign of change? The way in which the federal government arrived at that decision.

    View
  • Cyber Risk Report: Cybercrime Trends from 2016

    In our first half 2016 cyber trends report, SurfWatch Labs threat intelligence analysts noted one key theme – the interconnected nature of cybercrime – and the second half of the year saw organizations continuing to struggle with that reality. The number of potential cyber threats, the pool of already compromised information, and the ease of finding increasingly sophisticated cybercriminal tools continued to snowball throughout the year.

    View
  • Featured Content from RSA Conference: Dissed by NIST

    Learn more about the latest draft of the U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology guidance document on authentication and lifecycle management.

    View
  • GBC Issue Brief: The Future of 9-1-1

    A Look Into the Next Generation of Emergency Services

    View
  • GBC Survey Report: Securing the Perimeters

    A candid survey on cybersecurity in state and local governments

    View
  • The New IP: Moving Government Agencies Toward the Network of The Future

    Federal IT managers are looking to modernize legacy network infrastructures that are taxed by growing demands from mobile devices, video, vast amounts of data, and more. This issue brief discusses the federal government network landscape, as well as market, financial force drivers for network modernization.

    View
  • eBook: State & Local Cybersecurity

    CenturyLink is committed to helping state and local governments meet their cybersecurity challenges. Towards that end, CenturyLink commissioned a study from the Government Business Council that looked at the perceptions, attitudes and experiences of state and local leaders around the cybersecurity issue. The results were surprising in a number of ways. Learn more about their findings and the ways in which state and local governments can combat cybersecurity threats with this eBook.

    View

When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.