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Hurricane Center director wont resign amid staff rebellion
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    MIAMI — The new director of the National Hurricane Center, under fire from staff members who want him ousted, said Friday that he doesn’t plan to resign but will if that would benefit the public.
    Director Bill Proenza replaced Max Mayfield in January. On Thursday, 23 employees — about half his staff — urged the government to removed him immediately, arguing that he had damaged public confidence in their ability to forecast storms and distracted the center from its work.
    ‘‘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,’’ Proenza said Friday during an interview at his office. ‘‘Does that justify removing someone?’’
    Proenza said his boss, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration head Conrad Lautenbacher, had given him ‘‘no guarantees’’ about his future, but insisted the damage was repairable.
    Telephone messages left Friday for NOAA spokesmen in Washington and Miami were not immediately returned.
    Proenza spoke no more than 20 feet from his forecasters, who quietly went on with their work behind a glass wall with shades drawn. A day after their public demand for Proenza’s departure, the forecasters were keeping quiet under the orders of superiors in Washington.
    ‘‘The effective functioning of the National Hurricane Center is at stake,’’ the 23 staff members had said in their 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 senior and front-line forecasters who called for Proenza’s dismissal argue that he has damaged public confidence in their forecasting abilities. Proenza also has publicly criticized the government for failing to provide enough funding, particularly to replace an aging weather satellite, but staff members say he is misrepresenting the problem and they worry the consequences of his campaign to replace it could hurt their capabilities.
    Proenza blamed many of the problems on a Commerce Department team sent this week to review the center’s management and organizational structure and ability to provide accurate and timely information. The team’s report is due by July 20 to the department, which oversees NOAA, the hurricane center’s parent agency.
    Senior hurricane specialist James Franklin said in a telephone interview Friday that the staff already tried resolving their differences internally and that the team’s arrival was part of that process.
    He said Proenza had misrepresented what would happen if a key satellite called QuikScat failed. It is now past its expected life span, and Proenza has argued that tracking forecasts could be up to 16 percent less accurate without it.
    ‘‘He has been very loudly saying if it failed our forecasts for landfalling storms would be degraded, that warning areas would need to be expanded,’’ Franklin said. ‘‘None of that is the case, and he knows that we feel that way. The science is not there to back up the claims that he’s making.’’
    Franklin worried that Proenza’s statements would result in inferior technology hastily being substituted for QuikScat, possibly funded with money pulled from reconnaissance flights sent to investigate Atlantic storms.
    ‘‘Nobody’s happy about doing what we did,’’ Franklin said. ‘‘We tried so hard not to go this route. There are costs involved, but the costs of not speaking up for the nation’s hurricane program were higher in the long run.’’
    The International Association of Emergency Managers maintained its support for Proenza, but ‘‘we’re quite concerned that his employees have turned on him,’’ said Larry Gispert, the group’s first vice president. He urged NOAA to resolve the situation quickly.
    Associated Press writer Jennifer Kay contributed to this report.

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