Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Lixion Avila gets his way

So, I'm not really sure what to think of this. Bush-era appointee riles old department hands, and as President Bush's grasp of the Federal Government disintegrates, he resigns. This just played out in the National Hurricane Center, but for all that McClatchy's Carol Williams says
In the technology-intensive environment of forecasting, Proenza appears to have been considered an outsider grown distant from the hands-on work of scientists.
X. Bill Proenza didn't seem like a crazy or overly political choice. I suppose that maybe I shouldn't expect every appointment the president makes to seem insane, but if he put his cat in with strict instructions not to tie increased hurricane frequency to global warming, my world view would have been a little better enforced.

A lot goes on at the NHC that we don't hear about, and I'll just take it on faith that the staff who succeeded in ousting him were acting in the nation's best interest. The nature of the surface controversy is a little weird, though. From the Seattle Times:

Proenza has publicly criticized the government for failing to provide enough funding, particularly to replace an aging weather satellite and increase research. He also said NOAA had spent money on an anniversary celebration while cutting research money.

He said he was trying to ensure that his forecasters had the best tools and proper support.

Franklin, the forecaster, said Proenza had exaggerated the risk if a key satellite called QuikScat failed. It is 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," 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."

Now, does that sound like the kind of thing that would get the staff up in arms? Are they really pissy about him ragging on their party? Does it not seem to you that if a particular satellite is useful in a forecast, that the forecast would be worse without it? I feel like I'm being dense, but if you were a forecaster, wouldn't you want that satellite replaced? Wouldn't having your director stand up to the criminal redirection of funds from weather prediction to defense contractors in the name of some fanciful Mars Lander program be a good thing?

There has to be more to this story. Lixion Avila reveals what may be a little personal animosity, and revisits the rule that guided the first two or three years of life under Bush 43.

Avila and Franklin said they depend on QuikScat more for intensity information than to determine a storm's path. Avila said the satellite was like a BMW with leather seats: nice but not essential.

When asked if he thought Proenza misspoke intentionally, he said: "Don't attribute to malice what you can attribute to stupidity."


Nephos said...

Yes, I've been equally confused by this. Normally people don't expect great intelligence from their bosses, but they do expect them to go to bat for whatever their agency is.

No doubt Super-sleuth Malechem will keep us posted as he stays on the case.

Metta said...

This story just sets my teeth on edge. What seems to be lost in the whole shuffle is what I suspect really made Proenza's superiors angry enough to take the whining of 20 people as supposed reason enough to sack him: He called them out loud and long about spending an enormous amount of money on PR. I guess they felt the need to get to the four people who don't think we need national weather forecasting.

And that "BMW" satellite? Apparently it was vital enough to justify its purchase to replace its predecessor ten years ago. Its lifespan, incidentally, is supposed to be...ten years.

And I don't think this story should be mentioned or commented on without adding this: They held this bureaucratic crapfest smack in the middle of hurricane season.

And they were worried about HIM undermining their credibility?