Image: Bill Proenza
Wilfredo Lee  /  AP
Bill Proenza is returning to his old job as head of the southern region for the National Weather Service.
updated 9/11/2007 9:20:06 AM ET 2007-09-11T13:20:06

The ousted National Hurricane Center director is returning to his old job as director of the National Weather Service's southern region, federal officials announced Monday.

Bill Proenza left the Fort Worth-based office late last year to oversee the Hurricane Center in Miami, one of meteorology's most highly visible posts. Just seven months later, he was placed on leave in July after almost half his staff signed a statement urging his dismissal.

Proenza will return to the regional office Sept. 23. He said in a news release that he had requested the Fort Worth position and was "gratified to continue serving the American people in my chosen profession."

Critics of Proenza's work at the hurricane center said he exaggerated issues with an aging weather satellite system, undermining public confidence in the center's ability to forecast storms.

A report by a U.S. Department of Commerce team brought in to investigate said a negative atmosphere and lack of trust between Proenza and his staff had jeopardized the center's ability to function. The team said he should not be allowed to resume the Hurricane Center job.

Monday's announcement comes weeks after Proenza's lawyers sent a letter to NOAA officials, claiming they violated the Whistleblower Protection Act. The letter said they retaliated after he said that the aging satellite was not being replaced quickly enough and that hurricane forecasts would suffer if it failed.

Neither Proenza's attorney Jessica Parks nor NOAA spokesman Anson Franklin would comment Monday on whether Proenza's new appointment was the result of negotiations to avoid a lawsuit.

Commerce Undersecretary Conrad C. Lautenbacher Jr., head of NOAA, said in a news release Monday that Proenza has a record of outstanding performance in the Fort Worth office and that his return "is the best way for NOAA to continue to benefit from his skills."

Proenza has worked for the National Weather Service for 40 years, including nine in Fort Worth. The agency's southern region covers Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Puerto Rico, Tennessee and Texas.

Copyright 2007 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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