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Workers Concerned about National Weather Service Hiring Freeze - John Dunn

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Update:  The National Weather Service lifted their hiring freeze which have been in place for 10 months.

Nashville, Tenn. -- There are disturbing claims that the National Weather Service is putting lives at risk. Employees say the agency has millions of dollars that could be used to hire more forecasters.

Middle Tennessee is no stranger to bad weather. Tornadoes, floods, and winter storms are expected and often devastating. Now, there are new questions about the National Weather Service's ability to handle severe weather, issue warnings, and keep people safe. "It's just getting to a critical point at this point," says Jason Wright with the National Weather Service Employees Organization.

The Weather Service has had a hiring freeze in place since last March. There are now about 450 vacancies across the country, and senior meteorologist and union steward Jason Wright is concerned. "We are staffed for fair weather and fair weather only," says Wright.

Right now the Nashville office is down four positions. We are told some workers are doing two and three jobs, and that is a concern whenever there is severe weather. "You get to the point where you're approaching fatigue in some situations," says Wright.
Budget documents reveal what the union calls a $125 million dollar surplus. Employees believe the money could be used to hire additional forecasters and fill vacancies.   
The National Weather Service says there is no surplus because its funds cover two years. In a statement agency spokesman Chris Vaccaro says, "Balances that have yet to be obligated from a multi-year appropriation cannot be construed as excess or surplus."

It is not clear how the Weather Service plans to spend the money, however, the agency adds it has spent more than 98 percent of its funding on personnel, and its budget is open and transparent.

The employees union contends the hiring freeze puts people at an unnecessary risk, and the money should be reallocated to hire more people for the severe weather that's coming. "Very hard to be able to provide the services that we want to provide to the people here in Middle Tennessee," says Wright.

The National Weather Service says Congress allowed the agency to reallocate about $20 million to avoid furloughs and address high priority vacancies. Union leaders say more needs to be done to keep people safe.

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