Government Shutdown

Shutdown prospect puts weather forecasts in doubt

rainy day

Would a government shutdown affect the quality of U.S. weather forecasts?

It's still too early to tell as officials from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and its parent, the Commerce Department, scramble to determine which personnel would be furloughed and what programs put on hold if a shutdown occurs Oct. 1.

Commerce Department officials said the department is still in the process of updating its plans.

While neither NOAA nor Commerce is ready to talk specifics, based on prior statements by NOAA regarding furloughs and the backlash, it's likely the shutdown could affect some aspects of the weather forecast data used daily across the country.

In April, NOAA Acting Administrator Kathryn Sullivan told employees via internal memo that the agency planned to schedule furlough days over the summer that would have effectively shut down all but mission-critical offices and sent 12,000 employees home, some for as long as 20 days.

Some lawmakers and union groups opposed the furloughs publicly, claiming the furloughing of operational employees at the National Weather Service – a component of NOAA – placed the public at greater risk, especially during hurricane season.

In June, NOAA canceled the planned furloughs thanks to an increase in flexibility to handle budget cuts planned through sequestration. The move allowed NOAA to move more of its budgeted dollars into accounts used for employee salaries.

OMB has released guidelines to help agencies decide who to furlough and what programs to delay in the event of a shutdown. By law, agencies cannot furlough employees who provide for national security, provide benefit payments and performance of obligations or conduct activities that protect life and property.

One NOAA official told FCW the agency's weather forecasting protects life and property, but meteorologists and weather gurus within the agency might still be subject to furlough.

"Agencies are still in the process of reviewing relevant legal requirements and updating their plans," an OMB statement said. "Determinations about specific programs are being actively reviewed as agencies undertake this process."

About the Author

Frank Konkel is a former staff writer for FCW.

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