With the sign-off of a key lawmaker in Congress this week, the National Weather Service will avoid furloughs of up to 5,000 employees this summer by moving $36 million between accounts to meet its payroll.
Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Va.), head of a House panel that sets spending for the weather service, agreed to the “reprogramming” this week, following a sign-off last week by his Senate counterpart, Barbara A. Mikulski (D-Md.)
Most of the money will come from funding for long-term capital projects, including a planned system to provide weather data using advanced technology.
Competing resources for these kinds of projects and salaries for forecasters and other employees is what got the weather service in trouble this spring. The agency used improper accounting methods to balance its books for years—taking funds from capital projects and moving them to salary accounts— until an internal report released in May revealed that top officials did not seek permission from Congress to reallocate money.
Why is still not clear. Testifying before Wolf’s spending panel last week, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Director Jane Lubchenco, whose agency oversees the weather service, said officials chose to overfund capital programs and leave the salary account without enough money to make payroll. But she said she still does not know why.
Weather Service officials had warned Congress and its union that furloughs would be necessary if the reprogramming was not approved. Now that lawmakers have signed off on the transfer, the agency can move the money legally.
NOAA has hired an outside company to review the previous unauthorized transfers further, and lawmakers have requested audits by the General Accountability Office and the inspector general of the Commerce Department, NOAA’s parent agency.