NOAA plans for 4 furlough days, begins talking to unions

Tuesday - 4/16/2013, 5:48am EDT

Employees at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration will be furloughed for four days throughout July and August, essentially shutting the agency down during those days, acting Administrator Kathryn Sullivan wrote in an email to staff Monday.

"I wanted to let you know that today we are entering into national consultations with the labor unions that represent some of the NOAA workforce regarding implementation of up to four days of furlough for each NOAA employee before September 30, 2013," Sullivan wrote, in an email posted online by the Weather Underground blog. "Our current proposal includes plans to close a majority of our offices entirely on four specific days as other agencies facing similar challenges have chosen to do."

The four proposed furlough days are July 5, July 19, Aug. 5 and Aug. 30.

"Continued fiscal uncertainty and tight budgets have required that many government agencies, including NOAA, make tough choices," said Ciaran Clayton, NOAA's director of communications in an email to Federal News Radio. "Unfortunately, after much serious deliberation, in order to help address current budget shortfalls, we are moving forward with union consultations in order to implement furloughs across the agency."

NOAA's actions drew a response from Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.), chairwoman of the Appropriations Committee and the subcommittee that funds NOAA.

"These furloughs are a real consequence of sequester that puts family livelihoods into jeopardy for over 12,200 people who work hard every day to issue severe weather warnings quickly, map safe maritime waterways, and protect our fishery economies," she said in a release.

Mikulski said she is particularly concerned that furloughs would begin amid the hurricane season.

NOAA has not provided details about how many or which employees would be affected by the furloughs.

According to Sullivan's email to staff, NOAA implemented a hiring freeze on March 27, but that did not offset the automatic spending cuts the agency is facing due to sequestration and, therefore, led to the decision to begin planning for furloughs.

"NOAA has taken steps to ensure that this step will not impact life- and property-saving missions or any other critical products or services the American public has come to rely upon," Clayton wrote.

Clayton wrote that NOAA considered its employees to be the "backbone of our organization" and the agency would continue to fulfill its core mission "of science, service and stewardship while balancing investments in current and future programs and services."

In a separate email, Clayton confirmed the National Weather Service was included in the furloughs and would continue to provide its critical products and services, including weather forecasts and warnings; the operation of satellites; providing PORTS information; and fisheries and law enforcement operations.

According to NOAA's Sequestration Guidance document, the agency is required to provide employees with 30 days notice if they are to be furloughed.