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Hurricane chief blasts publicity campaign

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- While its hurricane forecasters are struggling with budget cuts, the federal government is spending millions of dollars on a publicity campaign, the National Hurricane Center's director said yesterday.

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. The center is part of the National Weather Service, an 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.

Anson Franklin, NOAA spokesman, said the agency is spending only 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 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 funding is needed for expanded research and forecasting.