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Weather Service In Eye of Budget Cut Storm

Samuel D. Barricklow | Getty Images

A frigid wind is blowing from Pennsylvania Avenue to National Weather Service offices all over the country.

President Barack Obama is calling to slash $39 million dollars or four percent from National Weather Service, a part of the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Under his budget plan, it would get $872.2 million in fiscal year 2013 – down from $911 million.

This is the second year in a row the National Weather Service is in the eye of the federal budget cut storm.

The National Weather Service narrowly escaped getting hit last year after President Barack Obama fought House Republicans to keep the funding. In fact, it got a net increase of three million dollars.

But this time, the downburst is coming from the White House. It’s expected to put 96 jobs on the chopping block.

NOAA Spokesperson Scott Smullen said President Obama’s proposal is an administration-wide effort to find IT efficiencies and savings across all federal agencies.

To comply, NOAA wants to “consolidate” 122 information technology officers who install software and maintain local computer systems at each of the 122 regional weather forecast offices around the country to a regional one.

“Past investments have led to technological improvements, making our IT systems more efficient and enabling the National Weather Service to fulfill these responsibilities remotely,” said Smullen in a statement. “NOAA does not believe this proposal will have an adverse impact on its mission to protect lives and property.”

Outsourcing IT personnel could have a dire impact on operations at the National Weather Service, according to Dan Sobien, the president of the National Weather Service Employees Organization.

“NOAA’s response of IT infrastructure investment is laughable. We are an iPhone agency with an etch-a-sketch infrastructure. Download speeds at most weather forecast offices are no faster than they were a decade ago,” said Sobien. “In many offices, you have more available bandwidth on your cell phone than the office has

He said eliminating the most technically advanced positions could have deadly consequences. Without them, Sobien believes it will be more difficult to provide accurate forecasts, storm warnings and keep web pages up to date.

Sobien said these workers help develop and support cutting edge programs to help predict forecasts and the intensity of storms. Plus, since many of these IT-type positions are filled by former meteorologists, Sobien said they sometimes jump in and work forecast shifts, too.

“Most people are very surprised on how small our offices are. There are 20 million people in the NYC area, and usually only two people on a shift that put the severe weather warnings out in it. We have just enough people to do that now,” said Sobien.

The White House Office Of Management and Budget did not respond to our request for a statement.



Stephanie is Squawk Box producer. Follow her on twitter @StephLandsman

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