A Fresh Look at Sequester Harms From House Democrats

Rep. Nita Lowey, D-N.Y., ranking member of the House Appropriations Committee, was among those signing the letter. Rep. Nita Lowey, D-N.Y., ranking member of the House Appropriations Committee, was among those signing the letter. Ron Edmonds/AP file photo

Minority Democrats in the House on Wednesday released an updated roundup of the impact of sequestration on agency programs, as prospects for a grand budget deal to reverse the automatic budget cuts remained uncertain. 

On a macro level, the Democrats warned of a drag on job growth and declines in nutrition. On an agency level, they warned of greater congestion at airports, longer wait times for travelers, less effectiveness in border enforcement, delayed implementation of improvements in food inspection and less training for federal employees.

“Using sequestration to reduce the deficit is counterproductive because it requires 20 percent of its spending cuts before the economy is expected to recover, costing jobs and thereby weakening deficit reduction efforts,” wrote the lawmakers led by Rep. Nita Lowey, D-N.Y., ranking member of the House Appropriations Committee. Recent legislative moves to reprogram funds, she said, are “Band-Aids” that actually “exacerbate the long-term problem.” By paying to avoid furloughing air traffic controllers by rerouting funds from the Federal Aviation Administration’s Airport Improvement Program, for example, “we are slowing down the long-term efforts to ease congestion.”

The Democrats also warned that despite the flexibility used by the executive branch to minimize sequestration’s harms, “departments can only go for so many years” without some of these resources, particularly training. If sequestration continues under current law for 10 years, “solutions utilized this year may not be available in any future fiscal year. “

Agencies singled out in the report included the Transportation Security Administration, which has avoided furloughs so far and has not noticeably extended wait times for passengers undergoing screening. “But TSA anticipates an increase in the number of delays during the peak summer travel months,” the document warned, and is planning to submit a reprogramming notice to Congress.

To manage a $600 million budget cut in fiscal 2013, Customs and Border Protection had to reduce inspectors’ overtime hours, which “have already led to significant increases in wait times at air ports of entry,” the Democrats wrote.

The Food and Drug Administration is operating at funding levels on par with fiscal 2010, despite enactment of major food inspection legislation last year, and must trim inspections as a result, the report said.

The U.S. Park Police began 14 days of staffwide furloughs for its 760 employees, which will “strain security at many of our most treasured national icons and will likely lead to longer response times,” the report said.

The Forest Service will begin fire season with 500 fewer firefighters, 50 to 70 fewer fire engines, and two fewer aircraft, the report said.

The Coast Guard’s drug and migrant interdiction efforts, cut by $294 million this year, will adapt by “reducing administrative/overhead costs and travel, deferring lower-priority planned maintenance projects, and postponing job/technical training activities,” fielding 20 percent to 50 percent fewer assets in offshore patrol areas.

Finally, the report said, sequestration cuts of $50 million are delaying the launch of a modernized geostationary weather satellite program at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The result, the Democrats argue, is an increased “risk of inaccurate forecasts for hurricanes, tornadoes, and severe thunderstorms, with further risks to public safety and costs from weather-related damage. The delay also raises the program’s long-term cost by $200 million, they added.

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