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Under the heading: The Politics of Disaster comes this news item.  Here it is two weeks before hurricane season and the top two leaders of the National Weather Service announced their resignations yesterday.

David Johnson, director of the National Weather Service since January 2004, said he would step down on June 30. John E. Jones Jr., the service's deputy director since 1998, will retire the same day after 35 years in the government.  Weather service's top 2 quit

The National Weather Service is the controlling ageny of the National Hurricane Center.  In turn, both are under the administration of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

Jones insists his retirement is not linked to on-going strife between NOAA and its daughter agencies, but has been in the works for months.  Johnson was unavailable for comment regarding his announcement.

What's the fuss?

Both resignations were made public two days after National Hurricane Director, Bill Proenza, blasted NOAA for frivolous PR campaigns and spending of public funds to the detriment of the safety of millions of Americans dependent on weather information and warnings.

Proenza told The Miami Herald on Wednesday that NOAA was wasting millions of dollars on a 200-year anniversary celebration and other unnecessary public relations efforts while forecasters at the hurricane center and throughout the weather service struggle with budget shortfalls.  Hurricane chief: NOAA wasted millions

"Gee, Bill," some Republicans in the current administration are probably saying, "You're in Miami.  How can you be against parties in the Party Capitol of the World?"

Proenza, the new (since January of this year) director of the National Hurricane Center/Tropical Prediction Center, located on the Florida International Unversity Campus that features the conjoint International Hurricane Research Center, objects to the backasswards priorities of NOAA and has been railing agains the parent agency since taking his current job.  He has other ideas about how the money could be more appropriately spent.

. . .millions of dollars in new funding is needed for expanded research and storm forecasting. One immediate concern is the "QuikScat" weather satellite, which lets forecasters measure such basics as wind speed and direction. Proenza said the satellite could fail anytime, degrading storm prediction capabilities, and there are no plans to replace it.  

In its defense, NOAA protests it's considering other options. . .

. . .if the satellite fails, including outfitting other satellites with similar technology. Overall. . .NOAA spends $300 million of its $4 billion annual budget on hurricane forecasting and research.

But Proenza, and many career employees of the National Weather Service are unhappy about other NOAA decisions.

NOAA is also considering name changes for the National Hurricane Center and the National Weather Service, adding its own logo to both entities. NOAA officials say it is about broadening the agency's name recognition as a whole and establishing an identity.

Proenza's objection is twofold.  Such actions would: 1) dilute funding to individual agencies within NOAA and  2) dilute the brand names of the National Weather Service and Hurricane Center.

Florida's emergency disaster chief, Craig Fugate, sides with Proenza as do many forecasters and representatives of their union.  The 3,000-member International Association of Emergency Managers expressed support Friday for Proenza.

In FY 2006, the federal government authorized

50 billion for earthquake reconstruction and rehabilitation program.  As compared with revised estimates of current year (Rs.313.7 billion), this is up by 38.7 percent.  Federal Budget

 By comparison

$29-billion in hurricane relief Chronicle of Higher Education

was allocated under the Department of Defense budget.  Cuts to hurricane relief funding last year were due to the crippling effects of Iraq War costs, requiring trimming in domestic programs.

In September of 2006, in response to the disasterous 2004 hurricane season, the National Science Board (an arm of the NSF) issued a report, following 10 months of extensive investigation and study, requesting a major increase in federal investments for hurricane research. It states that up to $300 million in additional yearly spending is needed as part of this new multi-agency national research effort.  National Science Board Proposes Major Initiative in Hurricane Science and Engineering  NOTE! that was a request for an increase, not a total budget request.

Kenneth M. Ford, co-chairman of the Science Board task force charged with studying the need for an expanded hurricane science and engineering research agenda, said the new report recommends essential new investments in: prediction of hurricanes in order to improve warnings to local officials and the general population; research toward new construction and infrastructure technologies; and understanding in greater detail the social and economic implications associated with these storms to provide better assistance to affected populations.

 Strange, not a word in there about PR expenditures.

Originally posted to Limelite on Sat May 19, 2007 at 12:55 PM PDT.

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