Lawmaker tells Commerce to Avoid National Weather Service Furloughs

The National Weather Service tracking of Hurricane Sandy The National Weather Service tracking of Hurricane Sandy NOAA/AP

A lawmaker urged senior leadership within the Commerce Department to reprogram agency funds to help avoid furloughs at the National Weather Service.

In a letter dated May 9, Rep. Richard M. Nolan, D-Minn., told acting Commerce Secretary Rebecca Blank and acting National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration chief Kathryn Sullivan that furloughs at the agency would have “negative impacts on employees and readiness.” Nolan said furloughs will compound problems from existing staffing shortages and proposed fiscal 2014 staffing reductions.

“While I am also supportive of NOAA grants and research dollars that promote economic development across this country, … reversing the cuts to the National Weather Service deserves priority to mitigate adverse impacts to the safety and protection of the American people,” Nolan wrote.

The Commerce Department did not respond to a request for comment.

Employees at NWS currently face four furlough days, and many local municipalities are becoming increasingly concerned about the possible ramifications from low staffing levels.  In the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area, one local NWS manager told his supervisor that current staffing vacancies “may not support effective forecast operations during either tropical or severe weather events,” according to a letter posted on Facebook. Another employee in NWS’ Grand Rapids, Mich., office told local news station MLive that there was a serious “gamble” occurring because of the shortfalls.

Dan Sobien, the president of the National Weather Service Employees Organization, the union representing thousands of the agency’s employees, recently told The Washington Post that despite furloughing employees, NOAA “cannot furlough the weather.” In a statement released on May 2, he said one bad storm would show NOAA that it was “dangerously cutting corners in the wrong places.”

He added: “Furloughs to the National Weather Service, in conjunction with furloughs to other agencies the nation depends on for emergency services, is like playing ‘chicken’ with the American public.”

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