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Federal Eye
Posted at 05:04 PM ET, 09/14/2012

Cuts could hit programs, federal employment

Cuts in government spending scheduled for January would affect a wide range of federal agencies and their employees, senior Obama administration officials said Friday.

A White House analysis of how “sequestration” — or mandatory reductions — would affect government operations warned of cutbacks in food inspections, air traffic control, numbers of FBI and customs and border patrol agents, as well as federally sponsored medical research, among other programs.

The report, however, does not specify the numbers of employees who might be affected by job cuts, furloughs or other cost-saving measures agencies may use.

“Clearly, if sequester were to occur, it would have a significant impact on the federal workforce,” said one of several officials the White House allowed to be quoted only on condition of anonymity.

Officials stressed that some programs would be exempt, or partially protected, from cuts approaching 10 percent on average. However, even in shielded programs, “administrative expenses” are subject to the cutting, the report notes. It says that such expenses typically include “personnel compensation, travel, transportation, communication, equipment, supplies, materials and other services.”

According to a separate analysis by the Congressional Research Service, federal salary rates cannot be lowered by such cutting, an issue that neither the report nor the administration officials addressed.

Cuts of some $110 billion, to be split about equally between defense and non-defense programs, are to take effect in the new year under terms of last year’s law raising the debt ceiling. That law ordered automatic cuts if the special “supercommittee” it created failed to produce a deficit reduction package. That group reached no agreement had been reached.

“The administration does not support the indiscriminate across-the-board cuts detailed in this report. We believe these cuts should never be implemented,” one official said.

“The report leaves no question that sequestration would be deeply destructive to national security, domestic investment and core government functions. . . . It’s across-the-board, both defense and non-defense, where there would be devastating impacts,” he said.

Administration officials called on Congress to act on proposals designed to avoid sequestration that Obama made to the supercommittee last fall and earlier this year in his budget plan.

“It’s time to stop the political games and start working together to prevent the sequester, protect the economic recovery and get our fiscal house in order,” ranking House Budget Committee Democrat Rep. Chris Van Hollen (Md.) said in a statement.

“This report provides ample evidence that we need a concerted effort to reach common ground on a balanced approach that addresses our fiscal challenges in a serious way and finds the savings necessary to replace the sequester," House Democratic Whip Rep. Steny H. Hoyer (Md.) said in a statement.

Colleen M. Kelley, president of the National Treasury Employees Union, said in a statement that “many federal agencies are already struggling with insufficient resources. People could soon go to the government offices and find longer waits and shorter hours, while out-of-work federal employees will only add to the long unemployment lines and the burden on local communities and state governments.”

Several approaches have been offered in Congress. On Thursday, the House passed a bill that the Senate does not plan to take up and that the administration has threatened to veto, calling it incomplete because it would spare only defense programs, and calling it unbalanced because it includes only spending cuts and no revenue increases.

Earlier, the House passed a more wide-ranging package of spending cuts that would require all federal employees to pay an additional 5 percent of salary toward their retirement annuities, phased in over five years. The House also has endorsed steps including a 10 percent reduction in the federal workforce through attrition and extending the freeze on federal salary rates.

The Senate has not taken up either of those measures, although a Republican-sponsored bill offered earlier this year to prevent automatic cuts in defense programs proposed to extend the salary rate freeze through 2014 and cut employment by 5 percent through a modified hiring freeze.

“Everyone agrees that the sequester is a bad outcome for domestic programs and our national defense – and for the hard-working men and women who are responsible for them,” Sen. Daniel K. Akaka (D-Hawaii), chair of the Senate federal workforce subcommittee, said in a statement. “Middle-class federal employees — 80 percent of whom live outside of the D.C. area, in every state — should not have to worry about how they will pay their bills if Congress fails to act. Congress must come together to negotiate an alternative deficit reduction package that asks millionaires and billionaires to sacrifice along with the rest of the American people.”

J. David Cox, president of the American Federation of Government Employees, said in a statement that “as lawmakers work toward a plan to avert sequestration, we urge them to resist calls to exploit the crisis by making cuts to Social Security, Medicare, or federal retirement.”

This post has been updated since it was first published.

By  |  05:04 PM ET, 09/14/2012

 
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