Ousted Hurricane Center Head Returning To Job In Texas

Tuesday, September 11th 2007, 5:46 am
By: News On 6

FORT WORTH, Texas (AP) _ The ousted National Hurricane Center director is returning to lead the National Weather Service's southern region, federal officials announced Monday. Bill Proenza will be director of the National Weather Service's Fort Worth-based office starting Sept. 23, the same job he left late last year to oversee Miami's National Hurricane Center, one of meteorology's most highly visible posts.

Just seven months later, he was placed on leave in July after almost half his staff signed a statement urging his dismissal. They said he exaggerated his criticisms of an aging weather satellite, undermining public confidence in the center's ability to forecast storms.

A report by a U.S. Department of Commerce team brought in to investigate said a negative atmosphere and lack of trust between Proenza and his staff had jeopardized the center's ability to function. The team said he should not be allowed to resume his job.

Proenza has been on leave since then, according to officials from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which oversees the National Weather Service.

Monday's announcement comes weeks after Proenza's lawyers sent a letter to NOAA officials, claiming they violated the Whistleblower Protection Act. The letter said they retaliated after he said the aging satellite was not being replaced quickly enough and hurricane forecasts would suffer if it failed. At the time, Proenza said he had not decided whether to sue.

Neither Proenza's attorney Jessica Parks nor NOAA spokesman Anson Franklin would comment Monday on whether Proenza's new appointment was the result of negotiations to avoid a lawsuit.

Commerce Undersecretary Conrad C. Lautenbacher Jr., head of NOAA, said in a Monday news release that Proenza has a record of outstanding performance in the Fort Worth office and that his return ``is the best way for NOAA to continue to benefit from his skills.''

Proenza was not available for comment Monday, his attorney said. But in a release, Proenza said he had requested the Fort Worth position and was ``gratified to continue serving the American people in my chosen profession.''

Proenza has worked for the National Weather Service 40 years, including nine in Fort Worth.

Ron Trumbla said he had worked well with Proenza for more than six years at the NWS's southern region, which oversees 32 weather forecasting offices in 10 states. The region experiences tornadoes, floods, grass fires and hurricanes.

``He has always been dedicated to every office providing the best service to people,'' Trumbla, a spokesman for that office, said Monday. ``It's a matter of saving lives.''