The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), parent agency of the National Weather Service, has implemented a hiring freeze effective immediately.

The freeze, put into effect by acting administrator Kathryn Sullivan, applies to civilian appointments except those already advertised.

During this time of budget uncertainty, NOAA has responsibilities it must meet in order to mitigate risk,” said Ciaran Clayton, a NOAA spokesperson.  “Like many of our fellow federal agencies, NOAA has implemented a hiring freeze in order to give management the tools to effectively manage resources, protect employees, and ensure we continue to meet our vital public missions.”

Exceptions to the hiring freeze will be considered on a case by case basis for high priority or mission critical positions.

The freeze comes less than two week after a grievance was filed against the NWS by its  labor union, the National Weather Service Employees Organization (NWSEO), for failure to fill 21 lead forecaster positions.

“The National Weather Service already has a vacancy rate of nearly 10 percent due to a hiring slow down by NOAA that started way before anyone ever heard of sequestration; the vacancy rate at the office that serves Washington DC is nearly 20 percent,” said Daniel Sobien, president of the NWSEO. “This staffing shortage is causing essential products that the public depends on, to be at least temporarily discontinued and forecasts, like those for the last two winter storms in the Washington DC area, to be way off the mark.”

Sobien continued: “Services to the American public are already being degraded and this action will likely make it much worse.  I don’t deny that NOAA is having budget problems, but their solution is leading to a rapid dismantling of the National Weather Service.  NOAA’s priorities are out of whack and perhaps it is time to start the discussion on divorcing the NWS from its parent agency.”

The NWSEO has demanded that the hiring freeze be rescinded on the grounds “Federal agencies may not implement changes of conditions of employment such as these without prior notice to their employees’ collective bargaining representative and without providing that representative to initiate and complete bargaining over the impact and implementation of those actions.”

In spite of the freeze and other recent cuts, the director of the National Weather Service, Louis Uccellini, is trying to maintain employee morale.

“Although we will face challenges in this fiscal year, we will shape annual operating plans structures within our organization to meet the challenges of tomorrow,” Uccellini wrote in an all-hands email sent yesterday evening.

He continued: “As we move forward through upcoming budget planning and workplace processes, we will be transparent, and provide you with updates on our progress and how it impacts your daily work efforts as often as we’re able. NWS employees are among the best and brightest this Nation has to offer.”