This amplifies the cuts, which must be taken equally from every “program, project and activity,” according to the sequestration law. Some managers have flexibility in these accounts, but not many, budget experts say.
President Obama has recently appeared with frontline workers to make the case that cuts will be disruptive to critical services. Republicans have called the predictions of dire services cuts so much hype.
About 71 percent of the Federal Aviation Administration budget covers salaries for controllers and safety inspectors. Furloughs could mean closed airport towers and flight delays, officials have said.
Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), ranking member of the committee that oversees the FAA, isn’t convinced. “We take issue with the fact that this has to be an all-or-nothing proposition,” he said.
Another advocate of smaller government, Chris Edwards, a budget expert at the libertarian Cato Institute, said, “I don’t think there’s any dispute about the furloughs.”
His solution to diminished services? Let private companies or state and local governments provide them. “Let’s untether these life-or-death services from the uncertainty of federal budgeting,” he said.
The Transportation Security Administration, which must save about $398 million, could furlough 50,000 employees for as many as seven days and cut overtime, Director John Pistole said this week. The longer the cuts drag on, the longer the airport lines, he said.
The high-turnover agency also will not be able to backfill most jobs. Some officials have estimated that the equivalent of 7,200 of 45,000 jobs would disappear under the cuts. A third of the workforce are part-timers.
About 300 officers shepherd passengers through security lines at Pittsburgh International and five smaller airports nearby. Three eight-hour shifts start at 4 a.m. Pittsburgh has two checkpoints with 10 security lanes, and anywhere from 50 to 70 officers to staff them, according to union officials.
“We’re running good if all 10 lanes are open,” said Kimberly Kraynak-Lambert, president of the American Federation of Government Workers Local 332 in Pittsburgh.
“But if people are furloughed and some are on vacation or sick days, we might have seven or eight lanes,” she said. “There will be less people on the floor. When there’s a push of passengers, you would feel that.”
Marsha Catron, a TSA spokeswoman, said travelers “will likely not see immediate impacts” from the cuts.
But if they continue, the hiring freeze would create 1,000 vacancies by Memorial Day and an additional 1,600 by September. During busy travel periods, passengers traveling at non-peak hours could spend 30 minutes getting through security. During peak times, the wait may hit more than an hour, she said.
Agencies say they already have reduced travel and training, put off contracts and frozen hiring.
At the National Park Service, the only thing remaining are people, spokeswoman Carol Johnson said. “It’s visitor service. We educate the public. There’s nothing left to cut.”
The Mall will lose $1.7 million from its $32 million budget. This is unlikely to hinder the upcoming Cherry Blossom Festival, which is largely privately funded. But it will mean fewer portable toilets and park police and less grounds maintenance for thousands of other special events on the Mall, from the Smithsonian Folklife Festival to the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington in August, Johnson said.
Many of these are staffed through seasonal employees and overtime, which hit $770,000 for the Mall last year and now will have to be scaled back.
“We’re not talking about overtime for the sake of overtime,” Johnson said. “We do not have a lot of fat to begin with.”
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