GloucesterTimes.com, Gloucester, MA

Fishing Industry Stories

June 4, 2013

NOAA backs off forced worker furloughs

The four-day work furloughs that had been in the immediate future for the 200 employees at the Northeast regional offices of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in Gloucester -- along with those of the other 12,300 NOAA employees nationwide — have been canceled.

In announcing the change, the agency said it had found other ways to meet its federal sequestration budget cut target for reduced spending, according to an internal email to employees which did not explain how much would be saved — or how.

The sequestration program, a formulaic set of spending cuts, was the alternative to failed budget and spending negotiations in 2012 between the Obama White House and Congress, especially the Republican-controlled House.

The NOAA Fishery employees in the Gloucester office are mostly professionals with a mean salary in excess of $50,000 a year, according to NOAA, which would mean the projected four-day furloughs would have trimmed spending by more than $120,000. NOAA Fisheries was assigned cuts of $73 million by the sequestration formula which required cuts in spending of $85 billion across the federal budget in the 2013 federal fiscal year ending Sept. 30.

The decision by Acting NOAA Administrator Kathryn Sullivan to cancel the furloughs of all 12,500 NOAA employees was made under pressure from Congress. That request was rooted in the deadly tornadoes of recent weeks, and Congress’ desire to avoid furloughing the agency’s 4,618 National Weather Service employees.

In an April memo to staff, Sullivan said the furlough plan would not risk mission critical work by employees of the National Weather Service. Rather than single out Weather Service workers, Sullivan then dropped the furlough plans for all NOAA personnel.

Sullivan announced her cancellation of all NOAA furloughs in an email at 11:30 p.m. last Friday. The text was published in the Washington Post’s weather blog early Saturday morning.

The cancellation of the furloughs came on the heels of the filing last week with the Senate Appropriations Committee of a petition signed by more than 150 members or allies of the fishing industry urging the permanent closing of NOAA’s Northeast regional office in Gloucester and the reallocation of savings for relief of the groundfishery’s “disaster” so declared by the acting commerce secretary eight months ago as catch limits were being radically reduced.

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