Politics & Government

Nelson: Trump hiring freeze could hurt hurricane response in Florida, nation

Waves driven by Hurricane Charley crash ashore in Key West on Aug. 13, 2004.
Waves driven by Hurricane Charley crash ashore in Key West on Aug. 13, 2004. Miami Herald Staff

President Donald Trump’s federal hiring freeze may harm the government’s hurricane preparedness and response, Florida U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson said Monday.

Nelson spoke out shortly after Trump signed an executive order in the Oval Office halting federal agencies except the Pentagon from hiring new employees.

“The National Weather Service’s around-the-clock forecasts save lives in Florida and around the nation,” Nelson said. “Failure to fill vital vacancies within the agency means those hands won’t be around when the monster storm hits. Not only would that be irresponsible, but it could put people’s lives at risk.”

Nelson, senior Democrat on the Senate Commerce Committee, questioned Trump’s nominee to head the Commerce Department, Palm Beach resident Wilbur Ross, about hurricane readiness last week at a panel hearing.

In written follow-up answers to Nelson’s questions, Ross, billionaire head of the W.L. Ross & Co. private-equity company, promised to move quickly to fill National Weather Service vacancies that existed before Trump’s hiring freeze.

“Timely and accurate weather information is crucial to protect both lives and property, and is also essential to the smooth functioning of numerous areas of commerce, including aviation, shipping, fishing and farming, to name just a few,” Ross said. “Proper staffing of the NWS is therefore important and, if confirmed, I intend to review the current efforts and see how they can be improved.”

The Senate Commerce Committee is expected to vote on Ross’ nomination Tuesday, with the panel believed likely to recommend his confirmation to the full Senate.

Trump’s campaign “Contract with the American Voter” had excluded “the military, public safety and public health” from his promised hiring freeze, but in signing the order he cited only the Pentagon as being exempt.

Trump’s freeze began more than four months before the official start of the Atlantic hurricane season.