Sequestration Brings Airline Delays, Federal Closings, New Warnings

Meditations on pain and gain.

Your blogger and her ilk have been wondering when the pain of sequestration would start to ripple through the wider public. Scientists and academics have been keenly aware of the difficulties spawned by the automatic across-the-board cuts that went into effect on March 1. In fact, as White House public outreach staff tell us, the science community has been the most active of all concerned constituencies when it comes to advocating against the cuts. But when, we wondered, was everyone else going to begin to notice that the cuts have real consequences?

Perhaps in early March when outraged congressmen began to scold the White House for cancelling tours?  Perhaps in mid-March when the House and Senate office buildings closed some entrances to allow for furloughs of Capitol police, resulting in long lines of visitors at the entrance metal detectors?  Nothe answer is this week, because as we head into summer vacation season, delays have begun at many major airports. The Federal Aviation Administration has begun implementing furloughs of all staff, including air traffic controllers, to reach its target of $637 million in savings by Sept. 30. Each of the nation’s 15,000 controllers will take 11 furlough days before the end of the fiscal year, and the days are carefully scheduled to minimize the impact on the traveling public. And yet, the traveling public was hit with noticeable delays on April 22, the first day of furloughs.

You can see flight delays and the reasons for them on the Current FAA Airport Delays page at the Flightstats website. Flyer beware!

The Internal Revenue Service is also commencing furloughs, but has chosen to close IRS offices completely on furlough days to realize additional savings from building operations, etc. IRS Acting Commissioner Steve Miller said in a note to staff on April 19: “The first furlough days will be May 24, June 14, July 5, July 22 and Aug. 30, with another two days possible in August or September. All public-facing operations will be closed on these dates, including our toll-free operations and taxpayer assistance centers.”

Adding to the drumbeat of serious news about sequestration, Secretary of the Army John McHugh and Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee on April 23, expressing concern about the cuts the Defense Department is experiencing. The department is required to cut nearly $42 billion by the end of September. If no action is taken to reverse sequestration, the cuts will continue into future years. The Army's share of the automatic cuts over the next six months is $7.6 billion. According to Secretary McHugh, the Army may have to reduce its force by over 100,000 beyond currently planned reductions if sequestration continues into fiscal year 2014 and beyond.

Recall that the budget adopted by the House would cancel sequestration for defense, but not for non-defense accounts. The budget adopted by the Senate and the one proposed by President Obama would cancel sequestration for both defense and non-defense accounts. Only a law passed by both houses and signed by the president could end sequestration, and that hypothetical law would have to include provisions for revenue that would replace the savings yielded by the automatic cuts. So far the odds of such a law passing both houses of Congress have not improved, but as the consequences of the cuts become more onerous, the odds may change.