This is what happens when the federal government prepares for something Congress never intended to become a reality. If Democrats and Republicans cannot end their deficit standoff by March 1, the cuts will kick in across the country. Sequestration, as the law is known, has sent agencies scrambling to buffer themselves, spending time and money that ultimately may be for naught.
Even if cuts take effect, it might not be for long — making the hiring freezes, canceled training, deferred projects, and lengthy planning for furloughs and other contingencies an exercise in inefficiency.
“There will be impacts for every decision we make,” Air Force spokeswoman Ann Stefanek said. The service is deferring maintenance to conserve money “so we can train a pilot to go to Afghanistan” if cuts of up to 10 percent go through.
“Eventually we will have to fix that roof, but at that point it won’t be maintenance.”
As any family living paycheck to paycheck can attest, managing uncertainty can be a drain on energy and the pocketbook, not to mention the spirit.
Such is the case for government managers and their staffs, whose problems are compounded by constrained spending under a temporary federal budget that lapses on March 27. Many expect another stopgap plan, and another, before the fiscal year ends Sept. 30.
And while the price tag of all this is — well, uncertain — the 2011 fight over the debt limit cost taxpayers more than $1.3 billion in additional borrowing costs, government auditors found. On top of that, Treasury Department employees responsible for avoiding default logged more than 400 hours of overtime and comp time.
That battle followed a budget showdown on Capitol Hill that brought the government within a day of shutting down, a scenario that some House Republican leaders say they don’t rule out supporting this year. The near-event took its own toll.
“Across the system millions of dollars were spent in shutdown procedures and gearing-back-up procedures,” said Joan Anzelmo, a park superintendent from Colorado who retired four months later.
This time around, a frustrated senior executive at the Department of Homeland Security said he and his staff have spent countless hours remaking budgets for every contingency.