In response to reports that the Department of Commerce has initiated an investigation into the operations surrounding the National Hurricane Center, U.S. Rep. Ron Klein sent a letter to Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez, expressing his concerns surrounding the timing and purpose of the investigation.
Below is the text of the letter:
Carlos M. Gutierrez
U.S. Department of Commerce
1401 Constitution Ave., NW
Washington, DC 20230
Dear Secretary Gutierrez:
We write to express our concern over the short-noticed operational assessment of the National Hurricane Center. According to reports, the assessment team, including an attorney from the Department of Commerce, began their investigation on Monday, July 2nd. They are then required to report their findings to Conrad Lautenbacher, Administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), no later than July 20, 2007.
Our questions revolve around the purpose of the investigation. Is the assessment to evaluate the ability of the National Hurricane Center to properly forecast hurricanes, or is it a reaction to National Hurricane Center Director Bill Proenza's previous statements regarding NOAA budgeting and the impending demise of the QuikSCAT satellite? Recently, NOAA representatives have expressed frustration with Mr. Proenza's statements regarding QuickScat. Such fears, we hope, are misplaced.
During a recent visit to the Hurricane Center in Miami, experienced forecasters independently verified the importance of QuikSCAT's data, explaining that it helped them to accurately predict and track hurricanes and other deadly storms. What they said verified Mr. Proenza's earlier warnings that predictions of a storm's path would be diminished by 10% over two-day forecasts and up to 16% for three-day forecasts when QuikSCAT goes off-line. While the loss of data will not cripple our forecasters' ability to track and predict storms, QuikSCAT's loss will mean that more people and larger areas of coastline will be under evacuation warnings, costing local communities significant resources and endangering more lives.
Mr. Proenza's warnings have served to draw attention to a critically important issue. Originally launched in 1999, QuikSCAT was designed by NASA with a life expectancy of three years. Now operating in its eighth year, QuikSCAT's demise is not a matter of if, but when. Even more alarming, a replacement for QuikSCAT will not be ready to launch for another five years, at the earliest. We feel that any step backwards in our ability to accurately track and predict the paths of hurricanes and other deadly storms is simply not acceptable, and we applaud Mr. Proenza for alerting Congress and the public to this situation.
The timing of the investigation also alarms us. While we understand the importance of ensuring high standards of performance at the Center, conducting the operational assessment one month into hurricane season could serve as a major distraction and impediment to the Center's vital work, particularly if key personnel are distracted. The better time for an operational assessment, if one is indeed warranted, would have been prior to hurricane season, so that the Center could have ample time to enact any needed changes to its resources, personnel, and management structure. An ad hoc operational assessment at this sensitive time may do more harm than good.
We trust that as the Department of Commerce and NOAA move forward with the operational assessment that you will carefully consider our concerns, and ensure both our colleagues in Congress and the American public that the Center's ability to accurately and timely predict hurricane forecasts will not be jeopardized in any way. We also look forward to your response as to why this investigation is warranted and to alleviate our concerns regarding its purpose and timing. Thank you for your consideration.
Ron Klein Debbie Wasserman Schultz
Member of Congress Member of Congress