Hurricane chief: Millions wasted on NOAA anniversary campaign

Published 7:20 pm Thursday, May 17, 2007

While storm forecasters struggle with budget shortfalls, the federal government is squandering millions of dollars on a publicity campaign, the National Hurricane Center’s director said.

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration officials are spending $4 million to publicize a 200th anniversary celebration while the agency has cut $700,000 from hurricane research, Bill Proenza told The Miami Herald this week at a hurricane conference.

NOAA has only been in existence since 1970. Agency spokesman Anson Franklin said several other divisions that make up the administration are 200 years old. He said the campaign’s cost is only $1.5 million.

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The hurricane center is part of the National Weather Service, which is overseen by NOAA.

NOAA has also proposed name changes for the National Hurricane Center and the National Weather Service, making them the “NOAA Hurricane Center” and “NOAA Weather Service,” Proenza said.

The name changes could dilute funding to the individual agencies as they and the money are absorbed by NOAA, he said.

NOAA’s annual budget is approximately $4 billion. The hurricane center has a $6.3 million annual budget, and Proenza has publicly called for much more since he took over in January.

“If NOAA achieves a strong presence in the eyes of the people who use its varied services, the agency will be more successful in budget matters,” Franklin said.

Proenza and his predecessor, Max Mayfield, said NOAA has already begun trying to phase out the other agencies from the public eye. They said NOAA ordered them in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina to remove the weather service’s logo from official tracking maps and keep only the NOAA logo. They refused.

Agency documents obtained by the Herald and a NOAA Web site indicate the department wants only its logo atop all federal weather-related content online.

Franklin said NOAA intends to bring the weather service, the hurricane center and similar agencies more firmly under the agency’s “corporate identity,” but will not dismantle them.

“I can assure you, we are not going to throw the baby out with the bath water,” Franklin told the newspaper. “The National Weather Service is probably one of the best-recognized organizations in the country. Everybody uses it.

“But we think that the people who use the weather service should know and understand that it is a part of NOAA,” Franklin said.

R. David Paulison, director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, urged NOAA to “not make a rash decision.”

“The National Weather Service brand has been around a long time, and people depend on that,” Paulison said. “I would hope that they would consider very carefully before taking the brand name away.”

The six-month hurricane season begins June 1, and scientists have said it could be unusually active.

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