57 Terrible Consequences of the Sequester

Agency heads warn of wildfires and neglect for vulnerable Americans.

ByABC News
February 20, 2013, 6:59 PM

Feb. 21, 2013 -- intro: If the heads of 20 federal agencies are to be believed, disastrous consequences await if President Obama and Congress fail to reach a budget deal, triggering the automatic, across-the-board cuts known as "sequestration."

Those cuts are slated to begin March 1, and earlier this month, the Senate Appropriations Committee asked agency heads to explain what would happen in such a scenario.

Read more: Sequestration: D.C.'s Weird Idea of Cuts

In separate letters to Committee Chairwoman Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., they warned of terrible things: Greater risk of wildfires, fewer OSHA inspections and a risk of more workplace deaths, 125,000 people risking homelessness with cuts to shelters and housing vouchers, neglect for mentally ill and homeless Americans who would lose services, Native Americans getting turned away from hospitals, cuts to schools on reservations and prison lockdowns. There's also a higher risk of terrorism with surveillance limited and the FBI potentially unable to disrupt plots, closed housing projects, and 600,000 women and children thrown off WIC.

In short: Unless a budget deal is cut, the country will be in deep trouble, according to the Obama administration's highest-ranking agency officials.

Read more: As Pols Fundraise, Is Sequester Inevitable?

The White House disseminated some of these projected cuts in a press release this month, and it seems possible that some alarmism is going on: No agency head wants to see his or her budget cut, and President Obama has lamented the sequester's unfortunate consequences while browbeating House Republicans to vote for tax hikes. Obama called them "meat-cleaver" cuts in a speech on Tuesday urging Congress to avoid them.

At the same time, some of the projected cuts would leave vulnerable parts of the population without vital services.

With the House in recess and with Obama playing golf over the weekend, a deal does not appear imminent. More likely, sequestration will kick in for a few weeks, a deal will get done later, and the cuts will be undone, rearranged, or replaced by revenue from higher taxes. But if no deal happens, here's what the agency heads warned will occur under a full year of budget sequestration:

quicklist:1title: 1. Air Travel Disruptiontext: After a $600 million Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) funding cut, furloughs would mean fewer air-traffic controllers and fewer flights.

Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood: "[A] vast majority of the FAA's nearly 47,000 employees will be furloughed for approximately one day per pay period until the end of the fiscal year in September, with a maximum of two days per pay period. ...

"The furlough of a large number of air traffic controllers and technicians will require a reduction in air traffic to a level that can be safely managed by the remaining staff. The result will be felt across the country, as the volume of travel must be decreased. Sequestration could slow air traffic levels in major cities, which will result in delays and disruptions across the country during the critical summer travel season. Aviation safety employees also would experience significant furloughs that will affect airlines, aviation manufacturers, and individual pilots, all of which need FAA safety approvals and certifications."

quicklist:2title: 2. Longer Security Lines at Airportstext: Even the Travel Security Administration (TSA) is not exempt from sequestration, and fewer workers would mean longer lines. Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano: "Funding and staffing reductions will increase wait times at airports, affect security between land ports of entry, affect CBP's [Customs and Border Patrol] ability to collect revenue owed to the Federal Government, and slow screening and entry programs for those traveling into the United States. ... The Transportation Security Administration would reduce its frontline workforce, which would substantially increase passenger wait times at airport security checkpoints."

quicklist:30title: 30. U.S. Less Prepared for a 'WMD Incident'text: FBI Director Robert Mueller also warned that the FBI wouldn't be able to respond as quickly to a "WMD incident": "Timely deployment of FBI Render Safe capabilities and resourcesa critical component to the integrated U.S. response in the event of a domestic WMD incidentwould be negatively impacted due to furloughs and inability to conduct replacement hiring of WMD specialists. Maintenance of operational capabilities and readiness would be affected by reduced funding for training and exercises."

quicklist:31title: 31. FBI Will Eventually Be Using Broken Equipment, Could Have Trouble Tracking Fingerprintstext: More from FBI Director Robert Mueller: "Deferral of routine maintenance or replacement of components would result in operational technology systems and equipment that are subject to more frequent breakdownswith the potential consequence of lost opportunities to collect critical evidence or intelligence."

He continued: "The capacity of the FBI to receive and process nearly 51 million checks of electronic and paper-based fingerprints submitted by state and local law enforcement to the Integrated Automated Fingerprint Identification System (IAFIS) could be similarly impacted by lack of staff hiring, loss of contractor support, and the inability to provide routine maintenance and replacement of system hardware. As a result, criminals using false identities may go undetected or be released due to lack of a timely response.

"Further, fingerprints and criminal history information submitted to the FBI are used for background checks to assist in determining the suitability of persons seeking employment as school bus drivers, child care providers, teachers, law enforcement, bank tellers, and security traders, among others. Increased system downtime could also affect the ability of the FBI to process such requests."

quicklist:32title: 32. 1/3 Cutback in Pacific Naval Presencetext: Defense Secretary Leon Panetta wrote to the Senate Appropriations Committee on Feb. 11: "The Navy will be forced to cut back on operations in critical areas such as the Pacific. Cutbacks of one-third could occur in Pacific naval presence."

quicklist:33title: 33. Reduced Army Readinesstext: Scaled-back "training and maintenance" for Army units will harm military readiness, Panetta wrote: "The Army will reduce training and maintenance for later deploying units. By year's end, the Army expects that about two-thirds fo its active brigade combat teams (other than those in Afghanistan) will be at reduced readiness levels."

quicklist:34title: 34. No Maintenance for Some Ships and Planestext: More from Panetta: "As of February 15, some Components will begin cancelling ship and aircraft maintenance work for the third and fourth quarters of FY2013. Unless we can reverse these actions, the results will eventually be fewer weapons available for deployment in future contingencies."

quicklist:35title: 35. 46,000 Defense Jobs Could Be Losttext: Panetta warned of widespread Defense layoffs in the near term: "Most Components will begin laying off temporary and term employees, again with exceptions for mission-critical activities. As many as 46,000 jobs could be affected."

quicklist:36title: 36. Some Air Force Planes Can't Flytext: Panetta wrote to the committee: "The Air Force will be forced to cut flying hours and weapon system maintenance. Most Air Force flying units (especially later deploying units) will be below acceptable readiness standards by the end of FY2013."

quicklist:37title: 37. Less Cybersecuritytext: Fewer contracted cybersecurity workers and analysis would leave government and civilian computer networks at risk, DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano wrote: "Reductions in funding for operations, maintenance and analytical contracts supporting the National Cybersecurity Protection System (NCPS) would impact our ability to detect and analyze emerging cyber threats and protect civilian federal computer networks."

quicklist:38title: 38. $1 Billion Cut from Disaster Relieftext: Cuts to FEMA of over $1 billion would mean less relief for disaster victims, Napolitano warned: "The Federal Emergency Management Agency's Disaster Relief Fund would be reduced by over a billion dollars, with an impact on survivors recovering from future severe weather events, and affecting the economic recoveries of local economies in those regions."

quicklist:39title: 39. First-Responder Layoffstext: Some emergency first responders are funded by federal dollars, and President Obama delivered his speech on Tuesday surrounded by cops. "Emergency responders, like the ones who are here today, their ability to help communities respond to and recover from disasters, will be degraded," he warned. Napolitano warned of possible layoffs in her letter to the Appropriations Committee, writing: "State and local homeland security grants funding would also be reduced, potentially leading to layoffs of emergency personnel and first responders."

quicklist:40title: 40. Coast Guard Operations Cut by 1/4, Drugs Coming In on Boatstext: The Coast Guard would see broad limitations in its operations, meaning fewer interdictions of illegal substances and people crossing U.S. borders by water, Napolitano warned: "The U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) would have to curtail air and surface operations by nearly twenty-five percent, adversely affecting maritime safety and security across nearly all missions areas. A reduction of this magnitude will substantially reduce drug interdiction, migrant interdiction, fisheries law enforcement, aids to navigation, and other law enforcement operations as well as the safe flow of commerce along U.S. waterways."

quicklist:41title: 41. $500 Million Cut from Foreign Economic and Military Aidtext: Both economic and military aid would be cut, Secretary of State John Kerry warned the committee. Along with a $70 million cut to the USAID budget, Kerry warned that "sequestration would force us to cut approximately $200 million from our humanitarian assistance accounts at a time when we face growing needs in Syria, the Horn of Africa, and the Sahel. ... USAID would have to cease, reduce, or not initiate assitance to millions of disaster-affected people."

On military aid: "An over $300 million cut to our Foreign Military Financing account could lead to reductions in military assistance to Israel, Jordan, and Egypt, undermining our commitment to their security at such a volatile time."

quicklist:42title: 42. $380 Million Cut from Global AIDS Fundingtext: Kerry also warned that more than $400 million will be cut from the State Department's Global Health Program, including $380 million from the George-W.-Bush-originate U.S. President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR).

quicklist:43title: 43. Less Security at U.S. Facilities Abroad, Less Protection for Americans Abroadtext: Despite the attack on the U.S. embassy in Benghazi, and the sensitivity surrounding U.S. embassy security in the wake of that attack, Secretary of State John Kerry told the committee that sequestration would "erode our efforts to enhance the security of U.S. government facilities, the platform for safe and secure diplomatic operations, both domestically and overseas."

Kerry also warned that Americans abroad could count on less emergency assistance: "In addition, this proposed across-the-board cut to the State Department budget would limit our ability to provide ongoing and emergency assistance to U.S. citizens abroad and curtail our efforts to facilitate foreign travel to the United States."

quicklist:44title: 44. Freed Up Terror Moneytext: Acting Treasury Secretary Neal S. Wolin warned the committee: "Spending cuts required by the sequester would force a reduction in Treasury support of counterterrorism and anti-money laundering investigations, which could undermine Treasury's ability to block funds from flowing to dangerous individuals and organizations, affecting the security of all Americans."

quicklist:45title: 45. U.S. Attorneys Will Take 2,600 Fewer Casestext: Attorney General Eric Holder warned that U.S. attorneys would handle 2,600 fewer cases in FY2013 after cuts of nearly $100 million from their current budget.

quicklist:46title: 46. Smaller Unemployment Checkstext: Sequestration "could impact the integrity of the Unemployment Insurance (UI) program," Labor Secretary Hilda Solis wrote to the Committee. "For the long-term unemployed, more than 3.8 million people receiving Emergency Unemployment Compensation benefits will see their benefits reduced by as much as 9.4 percent. Affected long-term unemployed individuals would lose an average of more than $400 in benefits."

quicklist:47title: 47. 1,200 Fewer OSHA Inspections, Potential for More Workplace Deathstext: Solis wrote: "The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) will protect its highest priority activities but still roughly 1,200 fewer programmed inspections of the most dangerous workplaces will occur. This reduction could lead to an increase in worker fatalities and injuries. States, which enforce the law in over half of the states, will also have to furlough inspectors, and an even larger reduction in the number of inspections in State Plan States is expected."

quicklist:48title: 48. Fewer Mine Inspectionstext: More from Solis: "The Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) will adjust funding to complete 100% of its mandatory Coal inspections, but it will likely not be able to do the same for the mandatory Metal Nonmetal mine inspections. In addition, many of the most effective activities that have caught grave workplace conditionsimpact inspections, technical investigations, respirable coal mine dust inpsections, and accident prevention investigationswill be significantly reduced, potentially leading to an increase in the fatality and injury rate among miners."

quicklist:49title: 49. No Job Training for Hundreds of Thousands of People, Less Training for Veteranstext: The Labor Department funds job training centers, and Secretary Hilda Solis warned that some will have to close.

"The millions of dollars in reductions to these funds will lead to several hundred thousand fewer participants served. These funds help dislocated workers, low-skilled adult workers, and disadvantaged youth find jobs," Solis wrote. "Under sequestration, OJC [Office of Job Corps] will have to either permanently close more than the few low-performing centers it had planned to close in program year 2013 or close all centers for a significant portion of program year 2013."

The Labor Department also funds job training specifically tailored to veterans. Solis wrote: "the Transition Assistance Program which serves over 150,000 veterans a year may have to reduce operationsleaving thousands of transitioning veterans unserved. The Jobs for Veterans State Grants Program will also experience cuts, translating to a reduction in the capacity to serve by tens of thousands fewer veterans in their efforts to find civilian employment.

The National Veterans' Training Institute and Homeless Veterans Reintegration Program would also be reduced, further eroding the tailored services the Department can provide to veterans."

quicklist:50title: 50. 1,928 Fewer Small Business Loanstext: Small Business Administrator Karen G. Mills wrote to the Senate Appropriations Committee: "Sequestration would cut SBA loan subsidy by $16.68 million ... each subsidy dollar is used to guarantee an average of $51 worth of loans for small businesses. This means that sequestration would take away SBA's ability to make 1,928 small businesses loansloans that could have helped small businesses access more than $902 million of capital. Additionally, these funds would have supported approximately 22,600 jobs in industries like manufacturing, food services and hospitality which are still struggling to recover."

quicklist:51title: 51. Slower Reporting on Economic Data, Less Analysis of Ittext: Different parts of the government collect and analyze economic data, and sequestration would mean cuts to both the Bureau of Labor Statistics (unemployment and workforce data) and the Bureau of Economic Analysis. As a result, the government could collect and analyze less economic data under a sequester, according to two officials who wrote to the Appropriations Committee.

Of BLS, Labor Secretary Hilda Solis wrote: "The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) is the principal Federal agency responsible for measuring labor market activity, working conditions, and price changes in the economy and its work informs and supports public and private decision-making. With millions in reductions, BLS would have to eliminate or reduce some of its programs."

Of GDP numbers and the Census, Deputy Commerce Secretary Rebecca M. Blank wrote: "Sequestration will also force a cut of $4.9 million from the Department's Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA). BEA will have to terminate work on key programs that help businesses and communities better understand GDP, foreign direct investment, and the impact of changes to economic activity within a specific regional economy (e.g., the economic impact related to Sandy)."

quicklist:52title: 52. Parks? Can't Use 'Em.text: National parks will close and limit their hours, according to Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, who wrote to the committee: "The public should be prepared for reduced hours and services provided by Interior's 398 national parks, 561 refuges, and over 258 public land units." Parks could "reduce hours of operation for visitors centers, shorten seasons, and possibly close camping, hiking, and other recreational areas when there is insufficient staff."

quicklist:53title: 53. 128 Refuges Could Closetext: Interior Secretary Ken Salazar also warned that sequestration could force the department to "require complete closure or program elimination at about 128 refuges. Visitor programs at nearly all refuges would be discontinued."

quicklist:54title: 54. Less Drilling and Exploration, Offshore and Onshoretext: Cuts to Interior Dept. would mean delays in oil and gas permitting, Secretary Salazar warned.

On offshore drilling, he wrote: "Efforts to expedite processing of offshore oil and gas permitting in the Gulf of Mexico would be thwarted by delays, putting at risk some of the 550 exploration plans or development coordination documents Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) anticipates for review this year."

On land: "Approximately 300 fewer onshore oil and gas leases would be issued in Western states such as Wyoming, Utah, Colorado, and New Mexico, delaying prospective production from those lease tracts and deferring payments to the Treasury."

quicklist:55title: 55. Fewer Air-Quality Forecaststext: If you've ever checked your local air quality, you might not be able to under a budget sequester.

Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa Jackson wrote to the committee: "Sequestration would force the Agency to eliminate or significantly reduce essential air quality data systems like AIRNow, a popular air quality reporting and forecasting system." Weather.com, for instance, gets its local air forecasts from EPA.

Sequestration would force general cuts in air-quality monitoring, beyond the daily forecasts, Jackson wrote: Sequestration would reduce the funding EPA provides states to monitor air quality, likely forcing the shutdown of some critical air monitoring sites." Without monitoring, it would be harder to determine whether areas of the country meet Clean Air Act standards, Jackson wrote.

quicklist:56title: 56. 1,000 Fewer Environmental Compliance Inspectionstext: EPA checks on whether businesses comply with environmental standards, and Administrator Lisa Jackson told the committee that the "implementation of sequester could result in 1,000 fewer inspections in FY2013." Sequestration would "Limit EPA's capacity to identify toxic air emissions, water discharges, and other sources of pollution," Jackson wrote.

quicklist:57title: 57. Less Nuclear Cleanuptext: The Energy Department would have to curtail cleanup efforts of old U.S. nuclear sites.

Secretary Steven Chu wrote: "The Department of Energy runs one of the largest environmental cleanup and remediation programs in the world in addressing the legacy of Cold War nuclear weapons production at sites around the country. Sequestration would curtail this progress, delaying work on our highest risks at sites in Washington state, Tennessee, South Carolina, and Idaho."