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Cloudy with a chance of furloughs at NOAA

NOAA storm imagery

Planned furloughs at NOAA could leave the agency effectively shuttered for four days during the summer storm season.

The summer forecast for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration includes a chance of furlough.

A hiring freeze in March and a budget boost of $200 million for NOAA in the proposed fiscal 2014 budget does not appear to be enough to keep the agency from proposing four furlough days in an employee-wide email message on April 15.

In the message, acting Administrator Kathryn Sullivan told employees the agency was in discussions with labor unions that represent NOAA employees and said the current proposal is to essentially shut down all but mission-critical offices on four days: July 5, July 19, Aug. 5 and Aug. 30.

In the message, which was posted on the Weather Underground blog, Sullivan said sequestration's automatic 8.2 percent across-the-board cuts created fiscal challenges the agency could not otherwise overcome, and she expressed concern about having the proposed furlough days come during hurricane season.

"For NOAA employees who are engaged in 24/7 operations such as those who work in our Weather Forecast Offices, those working on shipboard platforms that are not at home port, law enforcement officers and satellite operators, days will be carefully determined to ensure continuity of mission," Sullivan wrote. "In the constrained budget environment in which we find ourselves, there are no easy or painless operations available. This plan represents NOAA's best effort to ensure that critical public services are protected and employee impacts are minimized within the financial resources we have been given."

Ciaran Clayton, NOAA's director of communications, told FCW that although the budget climate is difficult, the agency has every intention of fulfilling its core mission of science, service and stewardship. However, Clayton stressed that investments in current and future programs and services must be balanced.

Richard Hirn, general counsel at the National Weather Service Employees Organization, immediately criticized the announcement.

"NOAA's plans to furlough operational employees at the National Weather Service as we enter the severe storm and hurricane season is unnecessary and places the public at great risk," Hirn told the Washington Post.

However, negotiations between NOAA and the labor unions are not final, and other options remain on the table that could help the agency avoid furloughs.

About the Author

Frank Konkel is a former staff writer for FCW.

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