NOAA comes under criticism again, this time over National Weather Service funding
By DON CUDDY June 05, 2012 12:00 AM
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and its embattled head Dr. Jane Lubchenco are again the target of criticism after the director of the National Weather Service, Jack Hayes, resigned abruptly on Memorial Day weekend.
An environmental watchdog group, Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER), informed the Washington Post when it learned that Hayes had been replaced and the story has since been widely reported.
An internal investigation has uncovered ongoing financial irregularities at the weather service, according to a NOAA memo. In fiscal 2012 alone, up to $35 million may have been “reprogrammed,” the term employed by NOAA to describe what has taken place, the memo said.
“This is a case of robbing Peter to pay Paul,” said Jeff Ruch, executive director of PEER, a national organization of federal, state and local employees who work in the environmental field. Structural deficits were built into the National Weather Service budget according to Ruch. “They were using appropriated funds to backfill general operations in a sort of budgetary Ponzi scheme,” he said.
A 60-page report produced by NOAA found that, for at least the past two years, the agency has been shifting appropriated funds from a number of its designated programs and using them to cover other expenses and to help avoid employee furloughs, according to Ruch.
Using appropriated funds for any purpose other than what is intended is a violation of the Anti Deficiency Act and that is a crime, he said.
Full story here
According to credible sources, the scuttlebutt is that NOAA may be forced to put up to 5000 employees on a two week furlough, and that there are expectations of charges being filed.
At the National Weather Service Employees Organization website, they say that
NOAA Leadership’s Mismanagement of Funds
Results in Furloughs of all NWS Agency Employees
(June 7, 2012) The National Weather Service has proposed to furlough all agency employees for 13 working days in FY 2012 due to a $26 million dollar budget shortfall. The NWS notified NWSEO today about the furloughs and included a Reprogramming Fact Sheet. From that sheet:
As a result of a recent investigation, the Department determined that there were insufficient funds in the Local Warnings and Forecast program to fully pay all labor costs for National Weather Service (NWS) employees in FY 2012. The Administration’s plan is to avoid furloughs of National Weather Service employees, which could cause significant impact to forecast and warning operations. As a result, the Department of Commerce has submitted a reprogramming package to reprogram funds within NOAA to support ongoing weather forecasting operations at NWS. In order to provide the NWS with the appropriate amount of time to plan its operations for the remainder of the year, the Administration will work with Congress with a goal of executing the reprogramming before July 1 that would cover operations and avoid furloughs.
There’s no mention of taking funds away from climate programs ($346 million FY2012). Given a choice between climate and forecast/warnings programs, I’ll take forecast/warnings programs every day of the week and twice on Sunday, and I’ll bet the public will too.
They go on to say:
“National Weather Service employees are paying for the mistakes of the agency’s leadership,” said NWSEO President Dan Sobien. “Their misguided plan to furlough all agency employees is another example of the short-sighted thinking that has put them in such dire straits.” (More)
This looks really bad, it appears they have a real mess on their hands. PEER is getting involved too, saying:
“NOAA should not be allowed to self-investigate and exonerate its political leadership,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch, pointing out union claims that budget juggling was needed to avoid needless furloughs of NWS employees. “We do not know whether faithful public servants are being scapegoated to divert attention from colossally dysfunctional management.”
And then there’s the internal investigative report they won’t release citing “privacy concerns”. Sound familiar? Maybe they can get advice from the Pacific Institute on how to CYA while withholding reports the public wants to see.