Weather Service Furloughs

After recent revelations of internal budget mismanagement, the National Weather Service is proposing a plan to furlough all of its employees in coming months, in case a deal cannot be reached with Congress to move around money to help make up a $26 million budget shortfall.

"This would require each employee to be furloughed for 13 days, or the equivalent of at least one full pay period," read a fact sheet from the Commerce Department, which oversees the Weather Service.

Even as they notified workers about the possibility, officials acknowledged that such furloughs "would potentially impact critical weather operations including those at the National Hurricane Center and Storm Prediction Center, during the peak of hurricane season."

The hurricane season began June 1; the furloughs would take place between mid-July and the end of September, normally an active time for tropical weather systems.

Certainly one way to grab some attention in the Congress - and the public at large - is to threaten to short staff the Hurricane Center during the summer.

The announcement angered leaders of the union for Weather Service employees, as they argued workers should not be penalized for the mistakes of upper management.

"Their misguided plan to furlough all agency employees is another example of the short-sighted thinking that has put them in such dire straits," said union president Dan Sobien.

"National Weather Service employees are paying for the mistakes of the agency’s leadership," Sobien added.

The move comes less than two weeks after the head of the National Weather Service suddenly retired, as an internal investigation showed that money had been diverted to weather forecasting field offices without the approval of Congress.

There was no evidence that the money had been pocketed for personal gain - instead, it was simply used to fund operations at local National Weather Service offices, by stripping money from other weather facilities.

While that might sound kosher to some outside of government, the cold truth is that no one other than the Congress can "reprogram" budget funds, one reason the Congress is demanding more answers before signing off on any deal.

So far, the Commerce Department has not released details of how it would move around money, but it would have to be done most likely before the end of June.

"It is the Department’s hope to work with the Congress to achieve this outcome," Commerce officials said in a document which was released yesterday by the National Weather Service Employees Organization.

"For years, NWSEO warned Congress that the NWS budget was underfunded," said Sobien, the union president.

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