For federal agencies, a second round of sequester-related budget cuts will carry a harder punch because one-time fixes and gimmicks won’t be as readily available, a liberal-leaning think tank warns in a new report.
In fiscal 2013, for example, Congress let the Justice Department apply more than $300 million in expired funds toward its share of the sequester, even though that money couldn’t be spent anyway, the Center for American Progress analysis says. That won’t be an option this time around; the FBI is already warning that it may have to furlough agents, the report adds.
Similarly, lawmakers halted furloughs of air traffic controllers by raiding a grant fund for airport improvements. But “airport infrastructure needs are piling up and Congress will eventually have to pay the bill,” according to the report.
And the Defense Department cut the number of civilian employee furlough days from the 22 originally planned to six by imposing a hiring freeze, laying off temporary workers, and sharply cutting money for training, maintenance and new equipment buys. Those kinds of reductions “cannot continue for long,” according to the report.
The 2013 sequester, required under the Budget Control Act after lawmakers deadlocked on a long-term path for trimming $1.2 trillion from future deficits, was the first in a yearly series that will run through 2021 unless Congress and the White House agree on another strategy.
The second round of across-the-board cuts is likely to hit in January, around the same time that a stopgap continuing resolution expires. While a House-Senate budget committee is striving to come up with a full-year spending package that could avert another sequester, a deal currently appears far off.
The report was written by Harry Stein, who previously worked as an aide to former Sen. Herb Kohl, D-Wis., and is now the center’s associate director for fiscal policy.