Monday, May 13, 2013

NWS Facing Staffing Shortages

The National Weather Service is facing a significant shortage of personnel in its forecast offices around the country, with several locations running several positions short around the country.

In an email posted on the NWS' employee union's Facebook page several days ago, conditions at the Baltimore/Washington NWS office are discussed.  This office was named the pilot office for the Weather Ready Nation program in 2012 but has been running this program with just two of the five allocated staff positions for the pilot and is running down a total of five positions in the office once all positions are accounted for.

The Weather Ready Nation program is about empowering the public to be better prepared to deal with extreme weather events in advance of their occurrence. 

This pilot program that the NWS was running down in DC has been put on hold due to the office's staffing situation, with other measures to limit staff strain potentially forthcoming as well.  These measures may include limiting the number of days that forecast sounding balloons are launched out of their office from seven days a week to just three, including to a report at Capital Weather.

The DC office is not alone in running short-handed -- Minneapolis' office is reported to be down three positions, Fairbanks in Alaska is down at least seven individuals, and Philadelphia's office has been short-staffed since January 2012. 

These staffing issues are not solely due to the sequester alone as evidenced by Philadelphia's short-staffed situation having been going on for over a year but with a hiring freeze having been in place since late March, thanks to the sequester, the ability to fill positions at local offices has been effectively neutered.   Reports are that up to 300 positions nationally are unfilled at present, many of these dating prior to the sequester's enactment.

The current hiring freeze situation has pushed one member of Congress to write a letter to the Acting NOAA Administrator asking for the hiring freeze to be lifted.  His letter cites a six percent reduction in staffing in the NWS since 2010 and, given budget projections for the upcoming Fiscal Year, a total reduction of eight percent in staffing positions.  The NWS office that Congressman represents has not seen full staffing since consolidation of the NWS' forecast offices took place in the mid 1990's.

Given that the budgetary gridlock is one that shows little signs of gathering any traction across the board in Washington for at least the next eighteen months, it does not appear likely that there will be any significant movement to fill the large number of positions that are unfilled in the forecast offices for the NWS across the nation.