About a day before they are scheduled to go into effect, leaders this week continued to say pending automatic federal budget cuts known as sequestration could have far-reaching effects on the economies at the federal, state and local level alike.
The $85 billion worth of federal budget reductions scheduled to take effect Friday unless Congress acts are the result of the Budget Control Act of 2011 and were reportedly designed to be distasteful to all sides in order to encourage a broader solution, which had not yet been announced Wednesday.
In a Feb. 20 memo to all Department of Defense employees, former U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta warned of the effects the measures could have.
“I have also been deeply concerned about the potential direct impact of sequestration on you and your families,” he said. “We are doing everything possible to limit the worst effects on DoD personnel — but I regret that our flexibility within the law is extremely limited. The president has used his legal authority to exempt military personnel funding from sequestration, but we have no legal authority to exempt civilian personnel funding from reductions.”
The federal Office of Budget Management announced recently that the federal across-the-board cuts would mean 5 percent reductions in non-defense areas and 8-percent reductions in defense spending. The Department of Veterans Affairs, according to a report from the White House, is exempt from the sequestration.
The reductions would affect a broad spectrum of Kansas initiatives, according to a report from the White House — Head Start early learning programs, provided here by the Northeast Kansas Community Action Program, would be able to serve 500 fewer children across the state. Kansas public schools would lose about $5.5 million in funding for primary and secondary education in 2013 alone, equating to about 80 teacher and teachers aide jobs.
That’s just the on the education side — funding for public health initiatives, senior services, domestic violence shelters, aviation security and safety workers and national parks, among others, would also experience cuts between now and the end of the federal fiscal year in September.
But perhaps the biggest single entity to be affected locally is Fort Leavenworth. According to the White House, the sequestration would result in furloughs for about 8,000 civilian Department of Defense employees in Kansas. As of Sept. 30, 2012, Fort Leavenworth included 2,684 DoD civilians on its payrolls.
Officials at Fort Leavenworth declined to comment on the sequestration directly, saying guidance on implementing the cuts would be coming from higher levels of command. The Commander of Installation Management Command that oversees all of the garrison operations for the Army, Lt. Gen. Michael Ferriter, did say in a memo that forcing employees to take unpaid furlough days off was considered an unsavory solution to the needed reductions.
“At this point, the steps IMCOM or Fort Leavenworth Garrison takes will focus on actions that are reversible if the budgetary situation improves and should minimize harm to readiness,” Ferriter wrote in the memo.
Page 2 of 2 - In a Twitter chat about the sequestration Wednesday morning, Army officials said employees would be given at least 30 days notice before the beginning of any furloughs and that the scheduled beginning of those furloughs as of now is April 26.
Those officials also said while there are no plans as of yet to extend the furloughs through the next year, continued measures were not outside of the realm of possibility. They said they could not anticipate how the sequestration would effect defense operations beyond Sept. 30, 2013.
Ferriter also wrote in his memo another list of measures to be taken to accommodate the required reductions, including a civilian hiring freeze, limiting and reducing administrative and base expenditures and postponement or cancelation of studies that are not considered “mission critical.”
Leavenworth City Manager Scott Miller said the impact of those defense cuts, whatever form they take, will be felt here, though perhaps not immediately.
“When people get furloughed, that’s less money that they have to spend,” he said, which could start affecting the local economy within four to six months.
According to information from the Fort Leavenworth Garrison, one unpaid eight-hour furlough day per month for 22 weeks equals a 20-percent reduction in gross annual pay for that employee.
Miller said it’s not the only front on which the city will be impacted by sequestration — funding for transportation projects and Community Development Block Grants from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development will also be reduced as a result of the cuts. He said the matter was bound to be one that a delegation from the city brings forward to lawmakers in Washington during their annual visit next week. He also said this week that he hoped lawmakers in Washington would come to some sort of solution before the visit.
“Not everybody is going to get what they want,” he said. “But we need to compromise for the good of the country.”