Hurricane Center Director Temporarily Reassigned Bill Proenza, the director of the National Hurricane Center, has been temporarily reassigned after half of his employees last week called for his ouster.
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Hurricane Center Director Temporarily Reassigned

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Hurricane Center Director Temporarily Reassigned

Hurricane Center Director Temporarily Reassigned

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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

The director of the National Hurricane Center in Miami lost his job today, a few days after about half of his staff called for his ouster. Staff members say Bill Proenza has caused the public to lose confidence in their forecasting.

NPR's Greg Allen is following this story. And Greg, Bill Proenza had only been on the job for about six months. What did he do that caused so many of his employees to revolt?

GREG ALLEN: Well, it's been a long process, Melissa. And it really began shortly after he took off, as of course, took the job. He followed Max Mayfield as long-time director of the National Hurricane Center, a very much of a revered figure, well-known to people around the country who've seen him on TV, and also very well beloved among the Hurricane Center staff.

And he was known for kind of operating in a real collegial manner. We've been told that he kind of did things by consensus. He really drew the Hurricane Center staff together into a team. And whenever they did anything, they did it together.

Bill Proenza came in with a lot - great credentials - works for the National Weather Service for many years. When he came in, everyone felt that he would be doing a good job in much the same mold as Max Mayfield. And in fact, Max Mayfield highly endorsed him as a great replacement. But as time went along, he - staff members say he was not operating under the same collegial manner. He did things kind of in his own way without consulting with everyone. And in recent months, it's clear that he kinds of shoots from the hip and says what he thinks and doesn't, you know, kind of doesn't worry about what happens afterwards.

BLOCK: And there was a specific dispute here as well, which had to do with a weather satellite that he said they needed.

ALLEN: That's right, and that's really what has precipitated this whole thing. Bill Proenza has had, basically, a feud with the director of his parent agency, NOAA, over the future of QuikSCAT, and that's a weather satellite that the Hurricane Center staffs say is very important in predicting and forecasting hurricane intensity - how quick, how much, how strong a hurricane is going to be when it hits the mainland. And that's really a key factor down here in Florida and everywhere along the Gulf Coast and the Atlantic Coast.

That satellite is on its last legs. Proenza says it was only designed for three years. It's now on its eight year of service. He wants replacement up as soon as possible. NOAA is taking a much more measured approach to it, and there were some other disputes as well over budget.

He criticized NOAA for cutting his budget and for spending about $2 million on 200th anniversary celebration, celebrating NOAA. So there's been a lot going on here, a lot of back and forth between him and his superiors and it's culminated in his firing today.

BLOCK: And it sounds like the staff people, who called for his ouster were saying, look, when you're saying we need this new satellite, you're casting doubt on our forecasting. People don't have faith in what we're doing.

ALLEN: That was an interesting development because I think many of us saw this as a feisty maverick fighting with his superiors over budget and other issues, and the independence of the Hurricane Center, which is this, you know, trusted and well-known, maybe one of the most trusted branches of the federal government feuding with people at NOAA.

Then lastly, it became clear that that feud had carried over within to an internal - creating internal dissents within the Hurricane Center. Staff there felt that he was undercutting their credibility with the public. One staff member was quoted in the paper as saying, when he'd go to the supermarket, people would say, I hear you guys can't do your job.

And so, that kind of undercutting their credibility led them to question whether he was really the man to lead them through this next hurricane season.

BLOCK: Hmm. Briefly, Greg, who takes over now?

ALLEN: Ed Rappaport is the current deputy director at the Hurricane Center. He'll be taking the job on an interim basis, at least until they find a replacement for Bill Proenza.

BLOCK: Okay. Thanks, Greg. That's NPR's Greg Allen.

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