By Erik Wasson - 06/08/12 08:59 PM EDT
Sens. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) and Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas) on Friday called on Attorney General Eric Holder to investigate financial problems at the National Weather Service that threaten to cripple the agency.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has warned the union representing weather service employees that it will have to furlough thousands of employees just as hurricane season arrives because it is running out of money.
The budget deficit has occurred because National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has for years asked for too little money for the weather service and then paid employees by transferring funds from other projects. The secret transfers stopped following an investigation this spring.
"We cannot allow furloughs because of inept bureaucracy. I am on the side of the men and women of the Weather Service, and the American people who depend on their forecasts and warnings," Mikulski said. "I am working on a bipartisan basis with my Ranking Member Senator Hutchison to get all the facts so we can agree to a new plan to prevent furloughs in the short term, and right the Weather Service's financial ship for the long term.”
The senators, who chair the Senate Appropriations subcommittee in charge of the Commerce Department, have said they will not consider appropriating the $36 million the Weather Service needs
In the House, subcommittee Chairman Frank Wolf (R-Va.) plans a hearing in late June on the problems.
Last month NWS Director Jack Hayes retired abruptly after a report on the financial problems was made public.
NOAA spokesman Scott Smullen said NOAA shared a fact sheet on possible furloughs with the union but did not send a formal furlough notice to Congress.
"NOAA is committed to doing everything within its authority to avoid furloughs, and our focus will remain on maintaining the critical operations and services we need to successfully perform our mission," he said. "Congress has shown great leadership in their historical and ongoing support for the National Weather Service and we will continue to work with them and answer any and all questions about how to move forward together."