Wednesday, June 20, 2007

QuikSCAT: Reprimand Bush, Not Hurricane Center Director

The acting director of NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) has reprimanded the director of the National Hurricane Center for telling the truth about the QuikSCAT satellite, which for years has provided the most reliable wind-speed measurements to predict where hurricanes will land: QuikSCAT has been on its last legs for months, it might fail at any moment, and NOAA has nothing in the works to replace it, this hurricane season or next.

In today’s print edition The Houston Chronicle notes that an administration that brought us FEMA’s disastrous response to Hurricane Katrina—and, I would add, broke every promise to New Orleans since—has no business letting another incompetent bureaucrat drive NOAA to less effective hurricane readiness.

If anyone needs reprimanding, it acting NOAA Director Mary Glacken—and the president who appointed her.

The editorial, which follows, is at

Straight shooter: Rather than reprimand outspoken Hurricane Center chief, superiors should heed his warnings.

Since assuming the highly visible directorship of the National Hurricane Center in Miami in January, Bill Proenza has been telling it like it is, much to the chagrin of his superiors at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Proenza, a four-decade weather service veteran, criticized NOAA for planning a multimillion-dollar public relations campaign and anniversary party while slashing $700,000 from the Hurricane Center's budget for improving storm forecasting technology. He questioned the decision to "rebrand" information coming out of the Hurricane Center as coming from NOAA, the parent agency.

Proenza has spoken out about the tenuous state of the aged QuikSCAT satellite that provides a data stream measuring wind speeds in developing cyclones. He also opposed plans to cut the flight time of hurricane hunter craft to 354 hours this year, less than half the time used during the record-setting 2005 Atlantic storm season.

For his efforts, acting NOAA Director Mary Glackin paid Proenza a visit last week and delivered a three-page letter of reprimand accusing him of issuing confusing statements that cast doubt about the agency's ability to accurately forecast storms. Unfazed, Proenza circulated the letter to his staff, telling reporters he would not be muzzled by agency bureaucrats.

Proenza says Glackin is not the first federal official to try to silence him. Earlier this spring another weather service staffer, Louis Uccellini, warned him that his statements about QuikSCAT were angering officials in the White House, the Commerce Department and NOAA. The director says he will not be silent on issues critical to saving lives and increasing the accuracy of his agency's forecasts.

Lawmakers in Florida on the county, state and federal level have rallied behind Proenza. U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson and several members of the state's congressional delegation warned against any attempt to replace the director. In a letter to Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez, whose department oversees NOAA, Nelson stated, "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."

Two years ago the nation saw a previously well-functioning Federal Emergency Management Agency fail to provide vital services during Hurricane Katrina because unqualified political cronies had been put in charge.

The National Hurricane Center has served the nation well, tracking and forecasting storms while minimizing loss of life. It would be a tragedy if Washington bureaucrats more interested in anniversary parties than in maintaining weather satellites usurped the center's independence.

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