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Lawmaker warns of staffing cuts, mass furloughs under sequestration

Oct. 11, 2012 - 08:13PM   |  
By SEAN REILLY   |   Comments
Across-the-board budget cuts scheduled to take effect in January could put tens of thousands of federal workers on the unemployment line and imperil government missions ranging from nuclear weapons modernization to providing Indian health care, the top Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee said in an analysis this week.
Across-the-board budget cuts scheduled to take effect in January could put tens of thousands of federal workers on the unemployment line and imperil government missions ranging from nuclear weapons modernization to providing Indian health care, the top Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee said in an analysis this week. (Daniel Barry / Getty Images)

Across-the-board budget cuts scheduled to take effect in January could put tens of thousands of federal workers on the unemployment line and imperil government missions ranging from nuclear weapons modernization to providing Indian health care, the top Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee said in an analysis this week.

Within the Department of Homeland Security alone, more than 24,500 jobs could be slashed, Rep. Norm Dicks, D-Wash., wrote in a 15-page letter directed at other members of Congress. Some 3,400 Border Patrol officers — more than 15 percent of the total — could be cut, the ranks of active-duty and civilian Coast Guard staff could shrink 12 percent from 61,700 to 54,300, and the number of Secret Service agents could fall by more than 800, he said.

The Social Security Administration, faced with a cut of more than $600 million, would furlough its entire workforce for two to three weeks, Dicks predicted, and the Justice Department would handle a $2.5 billion reduction by whacking some 7,500 positions, including those of more than 3,000 FBI agents, U.S. marshals and other law enforcement personnel.

The budget cuts, formally known as sequestration, are set to begin Jan. 2 unless Congress and the Obama administration agree on a path to reduce future budget deficits by $1.2 trillion through 2021. They are required by the Budget Control Act approved last year in a tradeoff for raising the federal borrowing limit.

Lawmakers, who have thus far deadlocked on a compromise, are expected to mount a final effort in a lame-duck session starting Nov. 13.

“Clearly, any thoughtful, deliberate agreement will be an improvement over the mechanical and indiscriminate nature of sequestration cuts,” Dicks wrote.

In general, the cuts would chop 9.4 percent out of defense accounts, and 8.2 percent from domestic discretionary spending, the White House said in a report last month. Military personnel and all of the Veterans Affairs Department would be exempt.

Dicks’ analysis, which is far more specific than the White House forecast, was drafted by Appropriations Committee staffers, spokesman George Behan said in an email. The cuts would apply equally to each government “program, project, and activity,” he said, making it possible “to develop a fairly good estimate of the impact” on personnel spending.

Moreover, Dicks predicted that sequestration would:

• Cut more than $2 billion from military construction accounts, making the entire program “unexecutable” and severely damaging employment within the building industry.

• Impede modernization of the nation’s nuclear weapons arsenal with a $861 million cut to the National Nuclear Security Administration.

• Exacerbate the Indian Health Service’s difficulties in staffing rural health care facilities by lessening the amount of money for recruiting and retaining qualified employees.

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