Sequester: What Will Happen, What Won't Happen and What We Don't Know

Federal agencies are tight-lipped, but the worst of it won't come until April.

ByChris Good
March 01, 2013, 7:18 PM

March 2, 2013 — -- When it comes to critical elements of the sequester timeline, not much is known -- because federal agencies have been tight lipped.

Asked when specific effects will be felt, officials at three federal departments declined to discuss the timing of sequester cuts and their consequences. Some departments were waiting for President Obama's Friday night sequester order and subsequent guidance they expected to receive from the Office of Management and Budget before talking about what would and wouldn't happen and when.

Read more: 57 Terrible Consequences of the Sequester

"There's no calendar of dates for specific actions or cuts on specific dates," Department of Health and Human Services public affairs officer Bill Hall told ABC News. "Again, these cuts need to be applied equally across all agency programs, activities and projects. There will be wide variation on when impacts will occur depending on a given program."

Some cuts won't be felt for a while because they have to do with government layoffs, which require 30 days notice, in most cases.

For instance, the Federal Aviation Administration won't begin layoffs until at least April 7, one FAA official estimated.

But some cuts don't involve furloughs, and could conceivably be felt immediately.

The Department of Homeland Security declined to comment on the timeline of layoffs to cybersecurity contractors and first responders funded through states, as well as limited Coast Guard operations and cuts to FEMA disaster relief.

The Department of Housing and Urban Development said it could not comment on cuts to housing vouchers, rent assistance for AIDS patients, maintenance for housing projects.

The Department of Health and Human Services declined to discuss the specific timing of cuts to Head Start services, low-income mental-health services, AIDS/HIV testing, and inpatient substance-abuse treatment.

Read More: Automatic Cuts Could Hurt on Local Level

So even as the sequester hits, we still don't know when some of its worst effects will be felt.

Here's what we do know:

What Will Happen Saturday

More from Carter, via ABC News' Luis Martinez: "What does that mean for national security? What it means is that as the year goes on, apart from Afghanistan, apart from nuclear deterrence through two missions we are strictly protecting, the readiness of the other units to respond to other contingencies will gradually decline. That's not safe. And that we're trying to minimize that in every way we possibly can."

What Won't Happen Saturday

Many of the sequester's worst consequences purportedly will arise from government worker furloughs, which can't happen right away. In most cases, government workers must be notified 30 days before their workdays are cut and, in some cases, longer, according to Office of Personnel Management Guidelines.

Here are some sequester effects that won't befall us until early April at the soonest:

A statement from TSA, provided to ABC News: "Travelers will likely not see immediate impacts at airport security checkpoints on March 1, but lines and wait times will increase as reductions to overtime and the inability to backfill positions for attrition occur. While wait times can vary on a number of factors, if sequestration goes into effect, TSA will put in place a hiring freeze, which will result in up to an additional 1,000 TSO vacancies by Memorial Day weekend and up to 2,600 vacancies by the end of the fiscal year. With TSA staffing levels decreasing over time, we expect that during busy travel periods wait times exceeding 30-40 minutes could double at nearly all of the largest airports. In addition, passengers who schedule their travel outside of peak flight schedules and plan to arrive close to their scheduled flight time may see their wait times now reach 30 minutes or more."

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