A view of Seaside Heights, N.J., after it was pounded by Hurricane Sandy in late October 2012. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration plans to shut down most agency operations for four mandatory furlough days in July and August in response to sequester-related budget cuts, according to the agency's acting chief. (AFP)
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration plans to shut down most agency operations for four mandatory furlough days in July and August in response to sequester-related budget cuts, according to the agency’s acting chief.
“In the constrained budget environment in which we find ourselves, there are no easy or painless options available,” Kathryn Sullivan told employees in a Monday email. “We are working to ensure that mission-critical or life-saving products and services are still provided.”
NOAA, part of the Commerce Department, has about 12,600 civilian employees, according to the Obama’s administration fiscal 2014 budget request. For workers at National Weather Service forecasting offices and other around-the-clock operations, the scheduling of unpaid time off “will be carefully determined to ensure continuity of mission,” Sullivan said.
NOAA imposed a hiring freeze late last month.
The planned furloughs would fall on July 5, July 19, Aug. 5 and Aug. 30. The first and last of those days are intended to piggyback on the July 4 and Labor Day federal holidays, “which provides additional utilities and other facility cost savings,” Sullivan said.
NOAA expects to lose about $270 million of its $5.1 billion fiscal 2013 budget because of the across-the-board sequester cuts that began taking effect March 1.
But Richard Hirn, the top lawyer for the union representing weather service employees said the furloughs would save only about $15 million, or a “rounding error” in comparison to NOAA’s total budget.
“The impact to the employees and harm to agency operations so outweigh that,” Hirn, general counsel for the National Weather Service Employees Organization, said in a Tuesday interview.
The planned furloughs will be far more widespread than predicted two months ago by Acting Commerce Secretary Rebecca Blank. In a Feb. 8 letter to Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., on the possible impact of the sequester, Blank said that up to 2,600 NOAA employees would have to be furloughed, and the contractor workforce cut by about 1,400.
Blank also foresaw damage to NOAA operations, including delays in launching next-generation weather satellites, cutbacks in fisheries management and fewer flight hours for aircraft that provide hurricane reconnaissance and costal surveying.
“It is unclear that future years of investment will be able to undo some of the damage,” Blank added, “especially to the economies of America’s fisheries and to our weather preparedness.”