Up to 4,800 employees at the National Weather Service could face 13 days of unpaid furloughs if Congress doesn’t soon sign off on a plan to fill a looming budget gap, the Obama administration is warning.
The Weather Service’s parent agency, the Commerce Department, determined there is not enough money in this year’s budget to cover the agency’s payroll costs, according to an official notification to the union that represents agency staff.
Commerce recently asked Congress to “reprogram” almost $36 million primarily to cover those costs, but lawmakers are balking, saying they want more information after a recent investigation found that Weather Service managers in 2010 and 2011 shifted money among different accounts without congressional approval.
To head off furloughs, however, the reprogramming needs to start in the next few weeks, the agency told the National Weather Service Employees Organization in the notice, dated June 1, and posted Thursday on the union’s website. Because Weather Service labor costs add up to about $2 million per day, the agency would need to save $26 million, equal to 13 work days, by the end of the fiscal year Sept. 30, the notice said.
The union represents about 4,000 Weather Service forecasters and other staff. Those employees “are paying for the mistake of the agency’s leadership,” President Dan Sobien said in a statement. The furlough plan is “is another example of the short-sighted thinking that has put them in such dire straits.”
But in an interview earlier Thursday, the union’s chief lawyer and lobbyist struck a more cheerful note. “I am confident that Congress and the administration will work something out,” Richard Hirn said.
If furloughs began in mid-July, each employee would have to take two to three days off for each pay period for the rest of the year, the notice said.