Budget Fear Factor 

Posted: 1:03 am Wednesday, February 23rd, 2011

By Jamie Dupree

The union for workers at the National Weather Service has been in high gear in the press in recent days, denouncing proposed budget cuts from House Republicans, claiming they could result in “significant loss” of lives.

“The worst case scenario is that major population centers will not get warnings of severe thunderstorms, tornadoes or blizzards and there will be significant loss of life as a result,” said Richard Hirn, the General Counsel for the National Weather Service Employees Organization.

“The Weather Service is already minimally staffed,” charged Hirn, saying any cuts could be damaging.

At issue are budget cuts that were approved last week in the House, which the union says will gut the Weather Service budget and cause closures of forecasting offices around the country.

One interesting part of this debate is that if you look at the GOP budget cutting bill from last week, you won’t find a word about the Weather Service, only its parent organization, NOAA, the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration.

When I looked through all of the budget documents issued by Republicans, there is only a reference to “NOAA Operations, Research and Facilities,” which would take a cut of $453 million.

There were no amendments that addressed the Weather Service on the floor of the House. If in fact big cuts at local offices were in the cards, one might have expected some lawmakers to be raising that in debate.

As for actual dollars, the NOAA budget was $4.45 billion in Fiscal Year 2009 and $4.7 billion in Fiscal Year 2010.

President Obama last year asked for $5.55 billion, which would have been an increase of $806 million or 17% from the FY 2010 spending levels.

That was never enacted, as the government is still operating on the FY 2010 budget.

So, this cut approved by the House is about 10% of the current NOAA budget levels.

The National Weather Service budget has been about $1 billion in recent years, less than a quarter of the NOAA budget.

“When the budget blade drops on the NWS, it will be felt around the country,” said NWS union President Dan Sobien.

“In the next hurricane, flood, tornado or wildfire, lives will be lost and people will ask what went wrong. Congress’s cuts and the devastation to the wellbeing of our nation’s citizens are dangerously wrong.”

While the Weather Service union has been vocal about possible cuts, the Weather Service itself has been reserving comment in public, so it’s not exactly clear that cuts would play out the way the union charges.

It would seem that the forecast for the Budget Fear Factor is very high right now on Capitol Hill.