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Sequestration Could Mean 14-Day Furloughs, RIFs at Homeland Security

DHS chief spells out negative consequences for the department’s mission, projects and employees.

The across-the-board budget cuts scheduled to take effect March 1 would force the Homeland Security Department to furlough law enforcement personnel for up to 14 days, DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano told a House lawmaker Wednesday.

Sequestration could also result in reductions in force at the department, she wrote in a Feb. 13 letter to Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., circulated by the National Treasury Employees Union. She did not provide an overall number of employees who would be furloughed, but said it would be a “significant portion” of the department’s front-line law enforcement staff.

“Reductions mandated by sequestration would undermine the significant progress the department has made over the past 10 years and would negatively affect our ability to carry out our vital missions,” Napolitano wrote. “Sequestration would roll back border security, increase wait times at our nation’s land ports of entry and airports, affect aviation and maritime safety and security, leave critical infrastructure vulnerable to attacks, hamper disaster response time and our Surge Force capabilities, and significantly scale back cybersecurity infrastructure protections that have been developed in recent years.”

Among other examples, she noted staffing reductions at Customs and Border Protection and in the Transportation Security Administration’s frontline workforce, and furloughs and decreases in overtime at the Secret Service. She also listed a range of impacts not directly related to the workforce. The department could not move forward with modernizing its financial management systems, for instance.

Napolitano urged lawmakers to head off the cuts. “We simply cannot absorb the additional reduction posed by sequestration without significantly negatively affecting frontline operations and our nation’s previous investments in the homeland security enterprise,” she wrote.

In addition to hindering DHS’ ability to fulfill its mission, sequestration could result in “significant loss of pay or even job loss for the dedicated and highly-trained officers and other frontline CBP personnel,” NTEU President Colleen Kelley noted in a statement. The union represents 150,000 employees in 31 agencies, including CBP workers.

“This would be devastating for these employees, their families and the communities around the country that rely on them to keep us safe and to facilitate trade and travel,” Kelley stated.

Napolitano’s letter comes as the White House, Pentagon and federal agencies are publicizing the consequences of moving forward with the reductions, and as federal employee groups rally against sequestration. President Obama also highlighted the problems with this deficit-cutting approach in his State of the Union speech Tuesday night, though he did not offer a specific way to avoid it. “These sudden, harsh, arbitrary cuts would jeopardize our military readiness,” he said. “They’d devastate priorities like education, energy and medical research. They would certainly slow our recovery, and cost us hundreds of thousands of jobs.”

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