A federal-employee union has disputed the National Weather Service’s rationale for a hiring freeze that started last year, saying the agency left hundreds of forecaster vacancies unfilled despite having a massive surplus.

A woman stands at the entrance of a building during a winter snowstorm forecasted by the National Weather Service. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke). A woman stands at the entrance of a building during a winter snowstorm forecast by the National Weather Service. (Matt Rourke/AP)

The NWS put a hold on new hires in March, citing a lack of funds for filling vacancies, which now number about 450. But the National Weather Service Employees Organization argues that agency budget documents from arbitration hearings this month show a $125 million surplus.

The two sides are now debating how much money is available for hiring new personnel.

“NWSEO contends that the NWS has funds that could be reprogrammed to fill vacancies,” the union said in a statement this week. “Similarly, the NWS has needlessly terminated training, travel and conference attendance, and delayed maintenance when funds were available.”

The NWS noted that its funds cover a two- to three-year period and that the unspent funds must go toward future expenses during that time frame.

“Balances that have yet to be obligated from a multi-year appropriation cannot be construed as excess or surplus,” agency spokesman Christopher Vaccaro said Thursday.

Vaccaro added that the NWS spent more than 98 percent of its funding for staffing and that using more from those accounts could put overtime and emergency travel money at risk for the remainder of the budget cycle.

“Our budget process is open and transparent, and we’re continuing to communicate, within the agency and out, how and when these dedicated funds will be spent,” the spokesman said.

(Correction: A previous version of this article mistakenly stated that the NWS lost one-third of its forecasting staff last year.)

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