Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Plan to Cut National Weather Service Workers Denounced

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Plan to Cut National Weather Service Workers Denounced

Article excerpt

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and a union representing National Weather Service employees are at odds over a plan to cut 80 percent of the weather service's information technology staff and shift remaining positions to remote locations.

NOAA, which oversees the NWS, says the plan would establish more efficient information technology services.

But the National Weather Service Employees Organization maintains that the cuts would hinder the ability of the NWS to respond to emergencies.

"To lose them will have a huge impact on our ability to get our warnings out and be able to serve emergency managers, police and first responders who depend on our information to save lives," said Daniel Sobien, president of the union and an NWS forecaster in Tampa, Fla. "It seems that the folks at NOAA have kind of lost their sense of reality."

Each of the 122 NWS offices in the U.S. has one information technology officer, who maintains the office's technology systems. The NOAA plan, which would reduce $9.7 million from the fiscal 2013 federal budget and could go into effect in the fall, would eliminate 98 of those positions.

The union said the problem is that current information technology officers write unique program configurations to meet the needs of their meteorologists and emergency responders in the local area and no office uses the same configurations.

"If the emergency manager wants a product a certain way in Allegheny County, but Butler wants it in a different way, they will write programs to deliver in different formats," Mr. Sobien said.

If a program goes down in a severe weather emergency, the union contends, a remote technician who isn't familiar with the programs will take longer to fix the problem than an on-site technician.

"Minutes matter when you're issuing warnings," said Joseph Palko, a NWSEO member and the Pittsburgh office's information technology officer. "You can't wait an hour for the help desk."

Christopher Vaccaro, a spokesman for NOAA, called the plan "viable" but declined to explain the plan or provide details.

"What will remain unchanged is the National Weather Service's ability to protect lives and property through forecasts and warnings," Mr. …

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