MIAMI – The National Hurricane Center's director said Friday he will not resign and his superiors have reassured him that he still has his job, despite calls from about half his staffers for the federal government to replace him immediately.
Director Bill Proenza said the demands by 23 employees for him to leave are the result of disagreements that can be resolved.
"We may have some disagreements in the philosophy of making changes at the hurricane center in the future as far as what we want for new capability, new science and technology," he said in a phone interview. "Does that justify removing someone?"
"I'm still head of the National Hurricane Center," he said. "That's what I was told by the head of NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) this morning."
The staffers who called for Proenza's dismissal Thursday included most of the senior and front-line forecasters. They said he has damaged public confidence in their ability to forecast storms. He has repeatedly and publicly criticized the government for failing to provide enough funding and to replace an aging weather satellite.
The staffers say they feel Proenza's public complaints since he took over the job in January have dragged them into a debate that has distracted them from their mission.
"The effective functioning of the National Hurricane Center is at stake," the staffers said in the letter. "The staff of the National Hurricane Center would like nothing more than to return its focus to its primary mission of protecting life and property from hazardous tropical weather, and leave the political arena it now finds itself in."
The center has about 50 employees.
Proenza blamed many of the problems on a Commerce Department team sent this week to review the center's ability to provide accurate and timely information, and whether its management and organizational structure helps achieve its mission.
The team's report is due by July 20 to the department, which oversees NOAA, the hurricane center's parent agency.
The rebelling staffers say the timing of the center's problems is bad, as the hurricane season is about to enter what are normally its busiest months.
Senior hurricane specialist James Franklin said in a telephone interview Thursday that Proenza had misrepresented what would happen if a key satellite called QuikScat failed. The satellite is past its expected lifespan and is on a backup transmitter.
Proenza has said since March that if it failed, forecasts could be up to 16 percent less accurate. But Franklin said that while the satellite is important, it would not critically hurt forecasts.
Proenza does still have the support of some staffers, although Franklin said most who read the statement agreed with it.
Franklin said he wanted the public to know that the center was still able to give accurate forecasts.
"We have forecasters on duty right now that are doing their jobs. They will continue to do their jobs," he said.
A telephone message left for NOAA's Washington office was not immediately returned.