NWS, union spar over agency vacancies

Wednesday - 1/22/2014, 4:04pm EST

Listen to Federal Drive's interview with Dan Sobien, president of the National Weather Service Employees Organization.

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A union representing thousands of National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration employees says the National Weather Service sat on millions of dollars in funding last year even after the agency blamed budget shortfalls for a hiring freeze that caused employee vacancies to pile up.

The National Weather Service Employees Organization (NWSEO) says the agency blamed lack of funds when it implemented a hiring freeze last March. But the union says NWS budget documents posted to its website show the agency actually ended fiscal 2013 with $125 million in unspent funds.

The NWSEO took its concerns over widespread vacancies at the agency — which currently number 451 — to arbitration hearings held last week.

NWS officials dispute the union's contentions that the agency left money on the table. By the end of the fiscal year, NWS exhausted more than 98 percent of funding from the two accounts that support staffing positions, a NOAA spokesman said. The unspent funding was actually carryover funding from multiyear accounts that the agency is expected to spend over the course of two or three years, the spokesman said.

The union has also criticized NWS for not requesting reprogramming from Congress in order to boost funding for additional hiring,.

But NWS says it did, in fact, request $20.6 million in reprogramming authority, which allowed the agency to avoid sequestration-related furloughs and fill some high-priority vacancies, according to the spokesman. Because of the across-the- board sequestration budget cuts, NWS was originally planning to furlough employees for between 10 and 20 days.

A Federal Labor Relations Authority arbitrator is expected to issue a decision in late spring, according to the union.

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