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Posted at 11:00 AM ET, 11/17/2012

Help wanted: National Weather Service seeks financial chief to institute “employee reductions”

UPDATE, Saturday, 11 a.m.: The National Weather Service denies it plans to reduce its workforce and has issued the following statement:

“The NWS Chief Financial Officer (CFO) vacancy announcement includes standard CFO job skills and duties, and uses the same template language used when the National Weather Service last hired for the position in 1998. This boilerplate language should not be interpreted as any kind of foreshadowing of the future of the NWS workforce. NWS employees prove their immense value to the nation time and time again without fail, as seen recently during Hurricane Sandy. This erroneous speculation is baseless and undermines the morale of the NWS highly valued and dedicated workforce.”

Original blog post, from Friday, 4:13 p.m.: The National Weather Service (NWS) has a key job opening: Chief Financial Officer (CFO). Buried in the announcement for this critical vacancy lies a surprising revelation: it seeks an applicant to carry out the task of reducing the NWS workforce.

“[The incumbent assumes] management /oversight responsibilities for the following programs: ... NWS efforts to achieve modernization and streamlining goals including employee reductions,” the job posting says (emphasis added in bold text).

The National Weather Service Employees Organization (NWSEO) said this news has sent shockwaves through the NWS workforce.

“Less than two weeks after Hurricane Sandy caused massive damage to our nation’s largest metropolitan area and before all the people in the area have even got there power back on, NOAA has revealed its plan to dismantle the National Weather Service and eliminate meteorologists that provided warnings that saved many people lives,” said Daniel Sobien, president of the NWSEO.

Richard Hirn, counsel for the NWSEO, said there were “strong indications” NOAA intended to reduce the size of NWS but had denied it to NWSEO as well as to Congress.

“Finally, they have been caught in public,” Hirn said.

In an email to NOAA Administrator Jane Lubchenco, the NWSEO posed the following questions:

Why hasn’t anyone bothered to inform NWSEO of this “goal” [to reduce staff]? Is this really how the Administration wants to treat its unions? Is this how employees are supposed to learn that the agency is going to let some of them go?

It’s not clear if the language in the job announcement is official policy. NOAA has yet to respond to questions about the stated employee reduction goal from the NWSEO or from the Capital Weather Gang.

For years, the NWS has been mired in fiscal problems.

This past summer, NWS was forced to ask Congress permission to reallocate $36 million intended for long-term capital projects to avoid furloughs for 5,000 employees.

Before that, its previous CFO Robert Byrd was placed on indefinite administrative leave (he has since retired) after it was discovered millions of dollars that Congress approved for various projects were “reprogrammed” without authorization to cover employees’ salaries.

NOAA conducted an internal investigation to determine the causes of the “unauthorized reprogramming”. An October news release of the Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) found the investigation failed to determine why funds were unavailable to pay for staffing and had to be shifted.

“[The investigation] was unable to pinpoint the size, duration or root causes of the [budget] shortfall,” the PEER report said.

PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch added: “NOAA has yet to come clean about what happened inside the Weather Service accounts and why, or what will be done about it.”

By  |  11:00 AM ET, 11/17/2012

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