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Robert Longley

How Bad is This ‘Sequestration’ Thing?

By February 18, 2013

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Unless Congress steps up to fix it or at least delay it, "sequestration" will kick in on March 1, and the agencies of the federal government will start having to get by with about $85 billion less in budgetary resources. Will they respond by doing "more with less," or "less with less?"

The fact is that should sequestration come about, many government agencies will be forced to do "less with less," because many of their employees will simply not be at work.

Sequestration came about when President Obama's congressional "Super Committee," failed to approve a balanced plan to cut $1.2 trillion in government spending over the next 10 years through selective cuts to the federal budget. Sequestration will accomplish the same $1.2 trillion in cuts, but will impact many agencies and programs that may have been at least partially spared the budget axe had the Super Committee completed its task.

At a Jan. 8 White House press briefing, Danny Werfel, federal controller for the Office of Management and Budget stated, "[T]here's no way to implement the sequester without significant furloughs of hundreds of thousands of federal employees."

Considering that the Department of Defense alone has estimated it would need to furlough at least 800,000 civilian workers, sequestration could easily result in as many as 1 million federal workers being sent home.

Furloughs are leave -- without pay -- for a number of days which varies among agencies. Furloughs are also a kind of time-off to which federal employees, who have not seen raises for over two years, are not looking forward.

Also See: Federal Workers' Job Satisfaction in Freefall

Of the $85 billion sequester spending cuts, Werfel told reporters, "These are large and arbitrary cuts, and will have severe impacts across government. Across the government we'll see assistance programs slashed; we'll see contracts cut; we'll see employees out of work. And we'll have no choice. The blunt, irresponsible, and severe nature of sequestration means that we can't plan our way out of these consequences or take steps to soften the blow."

In a Jan. 14 memo, Jeffrey Zients, deputy director of the Office of Management and Budget, advised all executive branch agencies to prepare for "significant and harmful impacts on a wide variety of government services and operations," in the event Congress fails to block sequestration.

Also See: Will Sequestration Turn US Parks Into Ghost Towns?

Should sequestration last for an extended period, Zients warns that "hundreds of thousands of families will lose critical education and wellness services through Head Start and nutrition assistance programs."

Along with deep cuts to the Department of Defense, which he says will reduce troop readiness and cut services for military families, Zeints warned that necessary furloughs of federal workers would result in a reduction in the government's ability to provide "essential services such a food inspections, air travel safety, prison security, border patrols, and other mission-critical activities."

Some government programs will be exempt from sequestration budget cuts, most notably: Social Security benefits, tier I railroad retirement benefits, Veterans benefits, Medicaid, and the Children's Health Insurance Program.

One more thing: Sequestration is set to kick in on Friday, March 1, and while the House might work on it this week, the Senate is on vacation until next Monday. Happy Presidents Day.

Also See:
A Decade of Wasteful Spending
Has the U.S. Ever Defaulted on Its National Debt?

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