Doing his job, apparently.
At a closed-door meeting in early January, [National Hurricane Center director Bill] Proenza told his bosses, including National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration head Conrad C. Lautenbacher Jr., that hurricane forecasts could suffer if the satellite known as QuikSCAT suddenly died. It was already more than three years past its life expectancy and running on a backup transmitter.
“We were on borrowed time, and I needed their support immediately,” Proenza recalled. “But I got no response. Nothing.[…] “I got pushed back from some of my staff. They felt I was bringing in complications to their world,” Proenza said earlier this week in his first detailed interview since his removal.
For forecasters, “perceived credibility is very, very important,” said Hugh Willoughby, a Florida International University professor who ran NOAA’s Hurricane Research Division from 1995 to 2002. “Their mission statement says to be the calm voice in the storm, and they perceived that what [Proenza] was saying was undermining people’s confidence.”
For me the bolded part is the real nut of this story. Like the administration it serves, forecasters at the NHS care first and foremost about perceived credibility. Real credibility, like making sure that they have the hardware to forecast accurately, plainly ranks second to giving a public impression that their forecasts are accurate.
To be quite fair I think the Bush administration hardly invented this particular mentality. Weather forecasters have been the butt of unreliability jokes since God created weather forecasters, so anybody would understand if forecasting professionals get tetchy on the subject. When a director shows up who really upsets the apple cart, the conflict described here seems inevitable under any administration. What caught my eye was what the administration actually did about it.
Remember, America is a country that has could really use accurate hurricane forecasting. The director of the nation’s Hurricane center has persuasively arguedg that the government soon will not be able to provide that service. On the other side, his staff is basically saying, “like, shut up.” Nobody has made any effort to refute his brief, they just want it to go away. After a national tragedy like Katrina, it would shame any normal administration to be seen siding publicly against the guy arguing for more and better resources for forecasting.
Today, not so much. Less and weaker scientific reporting suits this administration just fine, and there’s nothing they hate more than a whistleblower. Tough luck, Mr. Proenza, and if that satellite goes down, good luck finding insurance in southern Mississippi.
Via a commenter, others report Bill Proenza’s position with far more skepticism than did the Washington Post. Read and evaluate for yourself, to me it sounds like Proenza might have deserved to go. Obviously there is nothing to criticize if the Bushies fired an impossible manager on a misguided crusade, so let’s put this post on provisional status for now.