Head of Hurricane Center Replaced

By Peter Whoriskey
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, July 10, 2007

MIAMI, July 9 -- The embattled director of the National Hurricane Center was replaced here today after a brief but turbulent tenure in which he publicly criticized his bosses and then lost the support of much of his staff.

Bill Proenza, who was director for just six months, has been placed on leave. Ed Rappaport, the center's deputy director, was named acting director, according to a memo to the staff from Conrad C. Lautenbacher Jr., head of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

"It has been a very difficult time for everyone," said Dennis Feltgen, a spokesman and meteorologist at the center. "The staff is ready to move forward. We are building very quickly to the height of the season."

In January, Proenza took on the role of the nation's chief hurricane forecaster, the bully pulpit of meteorology. He quickly created controversy by criticizing NOAA spending priorities, arguing that more money should be spent for hurricane detection.

He targeted, among other things, the agency's anniversary celebration, for which he said the agency would spend $4 million.

At the same time, much of his staff was apparently becoming disgruntled.

Twenty-three members of the staff signed a statement last week asking for a new director, with senior hurricane specialist James Franklin saying Proenza had "poisoned the atmosphere here at the Hurricane Center."

The disgruntled staff members did not offer specifics with their criticism, other than to cite one example regarding an aging satellite: Proenza had warned that its loss would reduce forecast accuracy; the dissenting staff members said it would have no significant impact.

The staff members chose to detail their complaints instead to a team of inspectors who visited the center last week.

In explaining the decision, Lautenbacher's memo to the staff cited the inspectors' concern that there was a "level of anxiety and disruption that threatens the [center's] ability to perform its mission to protect the American people."

Before being named the Hurricane Center's director in December, Proenza, 62, was the director of the NOAA National Weather Service's Southern Region, headquartered in Fort Worth.

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