Former National Hurricane Center Director testifies before Congress

by Tracie Potts

NBC News

Congress is trying to get to the bottom of a storm at the National Hurricane Center in the middle of hurricane season.

The center's chief says he's speaking out for public safety after half his staff complained he intimidated them and scared the public, making it hard to accurately predict storms.

Since Katrina, Congress has been concerned with anything that distracts scientists from predicting when hurricanes might hit and in this case, investigators say science isn't the problem, the boss is.

"I've been chastised, threatened, investigated, recommended for reassessment, discredited after more than 40 years of dedicated service to my country," said William Proenza, Director of the National Hurricane Center.

Proenza told Congress he ruffled feathers at the highest levels of government and was told:

"I'm warning you, you have NOAA; DOC; OMB; and the White House, excuse me, 'pissed off'," said Proenza.

But Proenza's boss testified and was placed on leave after a few months on the job when a surprise inspection revealed he intimidated hurricane forecasters and staff.

"With lives potentially at stake, inaction was simply not an option," said Vice Administrator and NOAA administrator Conrad Lautenbacher.

Half of Proenza's staff called for his removal, but Proenza wants his job back.

"There's only one umpire. That decision's been made I think it's been verified. It may not be your fault but you're out," said Republican Tom Freeney of Florida.

Lawmakers debated whether they should be involved, and as for public safety a government expert testified that quick-scat is critical to predicting storms, but even if it fails tomorrow, other tools can fill the gap.