Weather Service Could Furlough 5,000 Workers Due To Budget Crunch

weather service workers furlough

When it rains it pours -- especially when there's bad news about the job market.

A cash crunch at the National Weather Service means that up to 5,000 federal workers may find themselves without paychecks for two weeks this summer, should Congress fail to allocate the $36 million the agency needs to meet payroll through Sept. 30, the end of the fiscal year.

"[The move] would require each employee to be furloughed for 13 days, or the equivalent of at least one full pay period," staggered over the summer, reports, citing a fact sheet from the Commerce Department, which oversees the Weather Service.

But the furloughs won't merely affect the government workers' bank accounts. As The Washington Post reports, the cutbacks come at the height of the hurricane season, and the forced time off could disrupt critical forecasting and other operations that the NWS provides.

Hurricane season began June 1, and the furloughs would take place mid-July through September, a typically active time for tropical storms. The result could be that millions of Americans won't get the information they need to plan for potentially life-threatening, severe weather.

"If faced with this difficult situation, [the NWS] would work to prioritize resources and staff for mission-critical operations," the agency told the union representing the agency's workers, the National Weather Service Employees Organization. "Weather operations would likely be affected."

Labor expenses cost the NWS about $2 million a day. Previously, it has reallocated money that Congress has earmarked for other purposes to meet payroll. But a recent investigation put an end to that practice, and prompted the abrupt retirement of the agency's director John "Jack" L. Hayes.

There's no evidence that the money was used for personal gain. Instead it was used to fund operations at more than 120 local NWS offices.

The announcement of potential furloughs angered the president of the employees' union, Dan Sobien, who was quoted by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution as saying that the workers shouldn't be penalized for agency executives' mistakes,

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

Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski (D-Md.), who's in charge of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies, opposes furloughs.

Mikulski told The Washington Post that she is working with her Republican colleagues "to get all the facts so we can agree to a new plan to prevent furloughs in the short term."

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