Matthew Cooper believes that if there’s one silver lining to be found in the “buffoonery” of the sequester, it’s that at least it will be a teachable moment for the public:
But if agencies and departments can’t or won’t juggle their books, hey, let people see what government really means. …There’s something sobering about aircraft carriers that won’t sail and forest rangers who won’t be paid to protect. The last time I can think of such an educational moment was not the short-lived government shutdown on the ’90s, but the Oklahoma City bombing. Who died in the blast? IRS officials, Secret Service agents, General Services Administration workers. President Clinton offered a reflection on the victims, “many there who served the rest of us, who worked to help the elderly and the disabled, who worked to support our farmers and our veterans, who worked to enforce our laws and to protect us. Let us say clearly, they served us well, and we are grateful,” he said.
In 2001, looking back on the bombing, Clinton said: “And I had, like every politician, on occasion, gotten upset by some example of government waste or something the way we all do, and referred derisively to government bureaucrats. And I promised myself that I would never use those two words together for the rest of my life. I would treat those people who serve our country with respect, whether they’re in uniform, in law enforcement, firefighter, nurses, any other things.” I’m not comparing the tragedy of Oklahoma City to sequestration. One is evil; the other buffoonery. But they each have the effect of making you realize what government employees do.
Some examples of what’s at stake:
Few corners of the federal government directly touch the public as do the 398 parks, monuments and historic sites, which draw 280 million visits a year. The system would feel the effects immediately of a $110 million slash should budget cuts take effect March 1 — from a three-week delay of Yellowstone’s spring opening to save money on snow plowing, to shuttered campgrounds and visitor centers along the Blue Ridge Parkway. [..] The prospect of dirtier restrooms, sporadic grass mowing and litter pickup, and a shortage of rangers to answer questions and patrol has set off a furious campaign by a coalition of park advocates, tourism officials and businesses from to Maine to Wyoming. Their plea: The reductions would not just set back conservation efforts but also undermine local economies around the parks that rely on tourism.
The Defense Department will notify Congress as early as Wednesday of plans to furlough almost 800,000 civilian employees starting in April if automatic budget cuts take effect, according to a defense official. [...] By law, however, DoD must give lawmakers 45 days notice of employee furloughs. If the spending cuts, formally known as sequestration, begin as scheduled March 1, the Pentagon will likely send most civilians home for one day per week for up to 22 weeks through the end of the fiscal year in September, Deputy Defense Secretary Ashton Carter told a House committee last week. The furloughs would save DoD about $5 billion out of the $46 billion total it will have to cut under sequestration, Carter said. Military personnel would be exempt.
Jessica Wright, acting Defense undersecretary for personnel and readiness, said that while the impact of sequestration on “military personnel would be devastating, the impact on civilians is catastrophic.” [...] “The first-, second- and third-order effect will be felt in local commands and communities. It’s not a Beltway phenomenon,” she said, noting that 80 percent of defense civilian employees work outside the Washington area. The 20 percent decrease in pay would affect business and communities and confront “many families with tough decisions.”
The Army estimates automatic budget cuts scheduled to take effect March 1 will have a $15 billion economic impact and affect more than 300,000 jobs nationwide. Hardest hit states include Texas, Virginia and Pennsylvania. Among the least affected: Delaware, Wyoming, Montana and Rhode Island. [...] The cuts will affect every Army installation, according to the documents. States with large bases and military contractors are taking the biggest hits. Texas, for instance, would face a $2.4 billion economic loss from the Army’s budget cuts. Nearly 30,000 Army civilian employees will be furloughed if the cuts go into effect. They will lose $180 million in pay.
If across-the-board budget cuts take effect as scheduled next month, every FBI employee, including special agents, will be furloughed for almost three weeks by the end of September. Ditto for many law enforcement officers at the Department of Homeland Security, where layoffs are also a possibility. Furloughs for Agriculture Department food safety inspectors will mean temporary shutdowns of meat processing plants. At the Social Security Administration, more than 1,500 temporary workers and re-employed retirees will be shown the door.
Budget cuts could result in up to 20 percent pay cut for federal workers:
Agriculture: Plans to furlough about one-third of its workforce, which would lead to “a nationwide shutdown of meat and poultry plants during a furlough of inspection personnel.”
Commerce: “Up to 2,600 NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) employees would have to be furloughed, approximately 2,700 positions would not be filled, and the number of contractors would have to be reduced by about 1,400.” Census vacancies would remain vacant.
Justice: “The Department estimates that it would lose the equivalent of more than 1,000 federal agents . . . as well as 1,300 correctional officers.”
“These employees aren’t some fat cat bureaucrats in a plush Washington office. They are the firefighters who safeguard our bases, the health-care professionals who treat injured soldiers in military hospitals, the mechanics who repair our tanks and planes, the logistics personnel who ensure supplies make it to our troops, the acquisition experts who prevent big defense contractors from ripping off taxpayers. Congress [needs] to find a solution to this manufactured crisis that does not punish our hard-working federal employees, cripple our economic recovery or gut federal programs and services.” — J. David Cox Sr., president of the American Federation of Government Employees
In addition to all the lost hours that went towards serving the public in one way or another – you never miss it until it’s gone! — imagine the lost commerce locally and regionally because of lost income. Civilian employees with the DoD (among others) stand to lose 8 hours in pay per week through September — that works out to a 20% pay cut. Could you afford that? Not to mention the lost incomes of all the people who will be sent home permanently or who could have been employed and who won’t be now.
All this manufactured crisis and upheaval because Republicans won’t agree to close some tax loopholes for the wealthiest to balance massive spending cuts (in a fragile economy!) with new revenue. In addition to March 1, we also have March 27 to look forward to. That’s when the government’s continuing resolution (funding to run the government) expires and when Republicans will undoubtedly threaten another government shutdown when they’re asked to ‘compromise.’
Let’s not forget two important things: right now the economy is improving and the deficit is shrinking. And maybe that’s why Republicans are so unhappy. As former GOP Virginia governor Jim Gilmore said recently: “They think spending is the most important thing. It’s not.”
(Graphics above via the NYTimes)