The Senate Appropriations Committee has said it is “very concerned” about the number of vacancies at the National Weather Service; data the agency recently released at a union’s request put the figure at 668 out of a total of 5,013 authorized positions—above 13 percent—many of which the union said have gone “unfilled for months and sometimes years.”

“Given the importance of the NWS mission to protect the lives and property of our nation’s citizens, extended vacancies are unacceptable – particularly when the committee has provided more than adequate resources and direction to fill vacancies expeditiously for the past several years,” says a report on an appropriations bill covering the parent Commerce Department that the committee has passed.

“Because NWS has failed to respond to the committee’s concerns regarding these vacancies, NOAA is directed to present a separate accounting of all NWS filled and open positions, including the length of time the positions have been unfilled, in its fiscal year 2018 spend plan. The spend plan shall also include the specific funding proposed for all NWS employees and associated expenses that are separate from other program costs,” it says.

It added: “The committee also recognizes that some vacant NWS positions may be redundant and invites the department to submit a justification for eliminating redundant unfunded vacancies in its fiscal year 2019 budget request, to include a full list of positions proposed for elimination, including reasoning for each elimination. Until such time as a plan to eliminate those vacancies is approved, NWS is directed to continue efforts to fill all vacancies as expeditiously as possible.”

The National Weather Service Employees Organization said that the shortfall is “degrading service to the American public and jeopardizing the NWS mission of saving lives and protecting property.”