Group Claims Vacancies at National Weather Service Endanger the Public

Science and operations officer Christopher Buonanno monitors data at the National Weather Service Warning and Forecast Office in North Little Rock, Ark. Science and operations officer Christopher Buonanno monitors data at the National Weather Service Warning and Forecast Office in North Little Rock, Ark. Danny Johnston/AP File Photo

The National Weather Service is not filling hundreds of open positions despite having the funds to do so, an employee group has said, though the agency disputes the claim.

The NWS Employees Organization called the vacancies “unnecessary and dangerous,” saying the agency was “flush” with $125 million in surplus funding, pointing to information it uncovered at an arbitration hearing earlier this month.

Most of the money, NWSEO said, would require a “routine” reprogramming request, though $10 million was ready for immediate expenditure on hiring. NWS, which implemented a hiring freeze on March 27, 2013, after the Mar. 1 start of sequestration, has 451 vacancies.

In addition to the failure to hire “hundreds of hurricane, tornado and fire weather forecaster vacancies across the country,” the employee organization said NWS, “needlessly terminated training, travel and conference attendance, and delayed maintenance when funds were available.”

For its part, NWS said the alleged surplus is simply the result of its ability to carry over funding into the new fiscal year.

“There is no surplus,” said Chris Vaccaro, an NWS spokesman. “Our funds cover two years and the balance is the obligation in the remaining year,” adding, “our budget process is open and transparent and we're continuing to communicate, within the agency and out, how and when these dedicated funds will be spent.”

Vaccaro said NWS obligated more than 98 percent of its funding in fiscal 2013 in one of its accounts, and more than 99 percent in its other account.

“Executing at a higher rate could have put needed overtime and emergency travel funds at risk at the end of the fiscal year,” he said.  

Dan Sobien, NWSEO’s president, disagreed with this argument.

“If they were saving the money for this year, why are they not filling vacancies?” Sobien said. “We are four months into this fiscal year and they have the [fiscal 2014] appropriation, and Congress has been quite generous to them.”

UPDATE: NWS responded that it has not yet received the fiscal 2014 funds it was allocated in the recent appropriations bill, and to this point the agency has been operating at sequestration levels. It also denied that it could simply use its leftover funds to pay for new employees. “NWS spent what it could given the constraints and uncertainty of the sequestration and late receipt of funding in the fiscal year,” Vaccaro said. “The vast majority of the carryover is in budget accounts that cannot be spent to fill field vacancies and have specific appropriation intent that NWS continues to carry out in FY14.” 

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