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Editorial: Congress’ shameful failure

Mar. 3, 2013 - 01:09PM   |  
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Federal employees are enraged, and they should be.

They are irate at their political leaders, who have treated their careers and livelihoods as political props and, adding to the insult, took a weeklong recess the week before the sequester deadline.

Feds feel betrayed by Obama administration officials and agency leaders for failing to level with them about how sequester cuts will affect them, and galled that the Office of Management and Budget delayed detailed planning until mid-January, making the rush to impose the cuts that much more difficult.

Not knowing raises anxiety and makes it harder to make plans to dampen the impact of a looming five-month, 20 percent pay cut. Single parents, homeowners still reeling from the mortgage mess, parents juggling finances to get their kids through college — all face problems unique to their circumstances, and all deserve better in exchange for their public service.

Congress’ outright failure to make a deal and the pleasure some lawmakers seem to be taking in having brought the nation to this point might have shamed the rest into action, if only shame were something our legislators might legitimately feel.

The sequester is bad policy no matter how one looks at it. Its across-the-board budget cuts are blind to need and deaf to thought, and inefficient besides. Lost in the hullabaloo over cuts is the plain fact that even as sequester steals from federal employees earnings, it conspires to add costs to the federal balance sheet:

• Revenues from federal fees — such as for food inspections, National Park use, air travel regulation and industry oversight — will plummet. Furloughed IRS employees will complete fewer audits; IG inspections will uncover less fraud.

• Downsized orders, interrupted purchases and delayed procurements will drive up costs when purchases resume.

• Lost wages will diminish federal income tax revenue.

• Deferred maintenance and modernization will lead to higher operating and replacement costs down the road.

• Many furloughed federal employees — and the other citizens laid off as a result of reduced federal spending — will seek unemployment compensation, meaning that as the government spends less on productive efforts, it will spend more on nonproductive unemployment payouts.

• Local economies that rely heavily on federal activity will suffer — the Bipartisan Policy Center projects sequester will reduce gross domestic product for the nation by 0.5 percent. That translates to lower tax revenues and increased federal assistance.

March 1 marked the beginning of severe and painful budget cuts. But it may also go down as a watershed moment, the day when the federal workforce lost all faith and trust in its leadership — another long-lasting consequence affecting the government’s ability to do its job.

John Berry, director of the Office of Personnel Management, promises in his agency’s strategic plan to “make government service cool again.”

For too many federal employees, the sequester is making government service no longer even bearable, let alone cool.

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