The federal government is spending millions of dollars on a publicity campaign while its hurricane forecasters are struggling with budget cuts, according to the National Hurricane Center’s director.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is spending up to $4 million to publicize a 200th anniversary celebration, said Bill Proenza, who heads the hurricane center, part of the National Weather Service, which is a NOAA agency. At the same time, it has cut $700,000 from hurricane research, he said.
“No question about it, it is not justified. It is using appropriated funds for self promotion,” Proenza said in a phone interview while attending the Florida Governor’s Hurricane Conference in Fort Lauderdale.
NOAA spokesman Anson Franklin said the agency is only spending about $1.5 million on the campaign over two years. He said it is justified to publicize the agency’s mission to a public that is often unaware of its involvement in weather prediction and forecasting.
“It’s part of our responsibility to tell the American people what we do,” Franklin said. “It’s inaccurate and unfair to just characterize this as some sort of self-celebration.”
Proenza has been critical of NOAA since taking over the post in January.
He says 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.
Franklin said NOAA is considering several options if the satellite fails, including outfitting other satellites with similar technology. Overall, he said, NOAA spends $300 million of its $4 billion annual budget on hurricane forecasting and research.
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.
However, Proenza fears the move could dilute funding to individual agencies within NOAA and will confuse the American public, which has come to rely on the credibility of the National Weather Service as a brand name.
Craig Fugate, Florida’s emergency disaster chief, was also frustrated by that move.
“I think it really shows how sometimes bureaucracies lose sight of their mission, trying to capitalize in such a way that short-term goals are actually detrimental to long-term goals,” he said.
The 2007 hurricane season begins June 1, and forecasters are predicting it will be busy. The hurricane center issues the watches, warnings and forecasts as potentially hazardous tropical storms form.
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