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National Weather Service fires top manager over public comments

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By The Washington Post
Saturday, Feb. 2, 2013, 5:28 p.m.

WASHINGTON — The National Weather Service moved to fire one of its top managers Friday, four days after he was quoted in a story in The Washington Post lamenting that budget cuts and the threat of further reductions in March were forcing him to pare back a public safety service.

William Proenza and his supporters called his firing a retaliation for going public with a plan to shut down radars on sunny days in the South to save power costs. But the Weather Service's acting director said there was no such connection and, in his termination letter, she cited Proenza for transferring $528,000 between accounts last year without authorization.

Proenza, 68, led the Weather Service's Southern region and ends a 50-year career at the agency that included a controversial tenure as the head of Miami's National Hurricane Center, one of meteorology's most visible jobs.

Frequently outspoken about what he perceived as management missteps, he planned to limit radars to cover a $100,000 shortfall in his second-quarter budget.

He acknowledged in a front-page story Monday that the move could pose a danger to the public if an undetected storm passed through.

“It's penny-wise and pound-foolish to try and save a few dollars if you're going to degrade our capacity to deliver our mission,” Proenza told The Post, describing a less-than-optimal cost-cutting strategy as the financially challenged Weather Service braces for $85 billion in automatic spending cuts that may occur across the government on March 1.

On Friday, acting Weather Service Director Laura Furgione flew to Fort Worth, Tex., to deliver Proenza's notice of termination.

The stated reason for his firing dates to June 2012, when the agency was embroiled in a controversy over a widespread practice used by financial managers at Washington headquarters to deal with persistent deficits. Agency leaders siphoned money allocated for equipment, technology upgrades and other programs to fund salaries and day-to-day operations without permission from Congress. The practice, called “reprogramming,” has since stopped.

The issue forced the retirement of the Weather Service director and chief financial officer. Like other managers, Proenza's budget staff had moved $528,000 from a local forecasting account to pay for radars, a decision authorized by officials in Washington, e-mails show.

Moving money between funds to address budget shortfalls “was done routinely” throughout the Weather Service “because our budget is barely adequate,” he said. “No one ever did it with the intent to get advantage or profit from it.”

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