Government agencies are already taking steps to comply with automatic spending cuts that took effect March 1. Some examples:
One of the Navy’s premiere warships, the aircraft carrier USS Harry S. Truman, sits pierside in Norfolk, Va., its tour of duty delayed. The carrier and its 5,000-person crew were to leave for the Persian Gulf on Feb. 8, along with the guided-missile cruiser USS Gettysburg.
Documents reviewed by The Associated Press show that more than 2,000 illegal immigrants have been freed from jails across the country since Feb. 15. An Immigration and Customs Enforcement spokesman, however, says the number is in the hundreds. ICE officials say they reviewed several hundred cases of immigrants and decided to put them on an “appropriate, more cost-effective form of supervised release.”
People arriving on international flights were said to experience delays at airport customs and immigration booths, including at Los Angeles International and O’Hare International in Chicago. Officials said that’s because they closed lanes that would have previously been staffed by workers on overtime.
WHITE HOUSE TOURS
The administration has cancelled tours of the White House, citing staffing reductions. House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, says Capitol tours will continue.
Examples of other steps that are planned or predicted:
More than half of the nation’s 2.1 million government workers may be furloughed. At the Pentagon alone that could mean 800,000 people who will lose a day’s pay each week for more than five months; other federal agencies are likely to furlough several hundred thousand more for a varying number of days.
There could be widespread flight delays and cancellations due to furloughs of air traffic controllers, but furloughs won’t start until April because of the legal requirement to give workers advance notice. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood predicts flights to cities such as New York, Chicago and San Francisco could have delays of up to 90 minutes during peak hours. Federal Aviation Administration officials have said they expect to eliminate overnight shifts by air traffic controllers in more than 60 airport towers and close more than 100 towers at smaller airports. But information posted online by the agency shows 72 airports that could lose midnight shifts and 238 airports where towers could be closed.
Members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff paint a dire picture of construction projects on hold, limits on aircraft carriers patrolling the waters and even a delay in the expansion of Arlington National Cemetery. About 800,000 Defence Department civilians face furloughs. The Pentagon will be forced to furlough for one day a week about 15,000 teachers who work at schools around the world for children of people in the military. Veterans’ funerals at Arlington could be cut to 24 a day from 31. Troops killed in action in Afghanistan will be the priority; they usually are laid to rest within two weeks. Beginning in April, the Army will cancel maintenance at depots, which will force 5,000 layoffs, and it also will let go more than 3,000 temporary and contract employees. The Air Force Thunderbirds and the Navy’s Blue Angels will stop appearing in air shows.
There could be an estimated 2,100 fewer food safety inspections, meaning greater risks to consumers. Worker furloughs are not planned, but rather the reduction in inspections would come from cuts in travel spending. On meat inspections, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said Tuesday that it will be several months before meat inspectors are furloughed and that each will likely be furloughed 11 days or 12 days, instead of 15 days as the Obama administration indicated earlier.
Visiting hours at all 398 national parks probably will be cut and sensitive areas blocked off to the public. Thousands of seasonal workers looking for jobs would not be hired, according to Interior Secretary Ken Salazar. He and National Park Service director Jon Jarvis said visitors would encounter locked restrooms, fewer rangers and trash cans emptied less frequently.
There could be disruption of efforts to close the radioactive waste tanks currently leaking at Hanford Nuclear Reservation in Washington state. The Energy Department estimates that it will have to eliminate $92 million for the Office of River Protection at Hanford, which will result in furloughs or layoffs impacting about 2,800 contract workers. Other high-risk sites facing work delays are the Oak Ridge Reservation in Tennessee, Savannah River Site in South Carolina and the Idaho National Laboratory.
Some 70,000 students enrolled in pre-kindergarten Head Start would be cut from the program and 14,000 teachers would lose their jobs. For students with special needs, the cuts would eliminate some 7,200 teachers and aides. The Education Department is warning that the cuts will impact up to 29 million student loan borrowers and that some lenders may have to lay off staff or even close. Some of the 15 million college students who receive grants or work-study assignments at some 6,000 colleges would also see changes. The 77-member Student Aid Alliance — a coalition of universities and college professionals — says the cost to a student could be as much as $876 annually in new fees, fewer work-study hours and reduced grants for students receiving federal aid.
Congressional trips overseas likely will take a hit. House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, told fellow Republicans that he’s suspending the use of military aircraft for official trips by House members. Lawmakers typically travel on military planes for fact-finding trips to Afghanistan or Pakistan, or other congressional excursions abroad.
The Internal Revenue Service says tax refunds shouldn’t be delayed because it won’t furlough workers until summer. But other IRS services will be affected. Millions of taxpayers may not be able get responses from IRS call centres and taxpayer assistance centres. The cuts would delay IRS responses to taxpayer letters and reduce the number of tax returns reviewed, impacting the agency’s ability to detect and prevent fraud. The IRS says this could result in billions of dollars in lost revenue to the government.
More than 3.8 million people jobless for six months or longer could see their unemployment benefits reduced by as much as 9.4 per cent. Thousands of veterans would not receive job counselling. Fewer Occupational Safety and Health Administration inspectors could mean 1,200 fewer inspections of dangerous work sites.
Hospitals, doctors and other Medicare providers will see a 2 per cent cut in government reimbursements. But they aren’t complaining because the pain could be a lot worse if there was a deal to reduce federal deficits. The automatic cuts would reduce Medicare spending by about $100 billion over a decade. But President Barack Obama had put on the table $400 billion in health care cuts, mainly from Medicare. Republicans wanted more. Obama’s health overhaul law is expected to roll out on time and largely unscathed by the cuts. Part of the reason is that the law’s major subsidies to help uninsured people buy private health coverage are structured as tax credits. So is the Affordable Care Act’s assistance for small businesses. Tax credits have traditionally been exempted from automatic cuts.