It is sad that a US president would not care about Americans, but it seems to be true. Information has come out in the past few days that appears to show that President Obama’s administration is ordering executive branch agencies to implement the sequester in ways that cause the effects to be the most obvious and difficult for the public. (Since the real Horsemen of the Apocalypse do not answer to the President, the administration needs to create its own version of devastation.)
WHITE HOUSE TOURS
Beginning Saturday, there will be no more White House tours. This is absolutely NOT necessary! The sequester spending cuts have to be taken over the next seven months of the federal fiscal year. It would have been perfectly acceptable to stop tours (if really necessary) in a month or two, giving tourists a chance to rearrange their plans. And since the sequester requires an approximately 5% cut across all programs, no program should need to be totally eliminated.
update 3/7: Although tours have stopped, the Director of the White House Visitors’ Office is still on the job earning over $100,000/year. What is she currently doing to earn that salary? Does she at least have to take furlough days?
FEDERAL EMPLOYEE FURLOUGHS
My source at the local Bureau of Land Management office tells me that the current bureau-wide proposal for employee furloughs is to have everyone furloughed on the same days, totally closing down each office. If employees’ required non-paid days off were staggered, there would usually be someone in the office to deal with almost any issue or question from the public. But of course, they have to make this as noticeable and frustrating to the public as possible, instead of trying to maintain business as usual.
BLM employees have also been ordered not to talk to anyone about the sequester, to refer anyone to the public information officer (who, of course, will have a prepared script to work from). My source was not sure of this gag order was initiated by the Bureau, the Department of the Interior, or the White House.
update 3/7: BLM employees received an e-mail today from Acting Director Neil Kornze which said that it now looks like no furloughs of permanent employees will be necessary. There is a hiring freeze in place for all positions except seasonal wildland fire personnel.
News reports have concentrated on one of the most visible federal agencies, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA). Janet Napolitano, Secretary of Homeland Security, has consistently said that overtime for TSA agents has been eliminated and wait times for airport security will increase to 30 minutes or more. On Monday she specifically said that security lines at Chicago’s O’Hare International and Hartsfield-Jackson International in Atlanta were longer than usual. But a spokesperson for the Chicago Airport Authority and passengers in Atlanta contradicted that. (http://www.cnbc.com/id/100519547/Budget_Cuts_Increase_Wait_Time_at_Airports_Napolitano)
I have news for Ms. Napolitano, wait times are often that long. I have waited for over an hour at Kailua-Kona, Hawaii – and the line was outdoors in the hot sun. Waits in Honolulu are routinely 20 minutes; last year I waited about 45 minutes. They have three security areas at Honolulu International, but always have two closed. I do not know if it is a lack of TSA employees or not enough body scanner machines. (Note: I do not take all my vacations in Hawaii; I have family there.)
Wait times have much more to do with when you are at an airport than how many TSA agents are on working. Even at the fairly small Reno-Tahoe airport, it can take 15-20 minutes to clear security if you happen to arrive at certain times of the morning when multiple flights are departing at about the same time. Thirty minutes before or after, you will sail right through the checkpoint. And the number of TSA employees on duty will be the same!
There have been some delays for airline passengers coming from overseas. Since furloughs have not begun, eliminating overtime is likely the problem with the staffing of customs agents. I would have to question the wisdom of using overtime as a personnel management tool. It would have been less expensive even pre-sequester to hire a few more customs employees than pay overtime.
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) says it will furlough air traffic controllers one day out of every 14 and leave 200 air traffic control towers at smaller airports completely unmanned. Those numbers do not add up with sequester requirements. A 5% sequester cut should require only a one day in 20 furlough schedule.
Since federal employees are supposed to take furlough days, not be laid off entirely, where are the controllers from those 200 small airports going to go? One would think that proper management of furloughs, and an emphasis on keeping sequester problems to a minimum, would allow those 200 control towers to remain open at least during their busiest hours.
update 3/8: It was reported today that in a test of the TSA at Newark Liberty International on February 25, TSA agents did not detect a fake bomb concealed by a federal agent, even with a pat-down. Are we getting any real protection for the tax dollars spent on TSA? ( http://www.newsmax.com/US/undercover-fake-bomb-newark/2013/03/08/id/493819 )
WILL SEQUESTER AFFECT YOU?
The sequester, if handled in a logical, caring manner, should not affect you unless you are a federal employee. But the highly political way this is unfolding, I would be cautious and allow more time (and possibly money) for any dealings that are handled by or connected to the US government.
President Obama seems intent on implementing the mandatory sequester cuts in ways that cause difficulties for as many Americans as possible. This is not because Mr. Obama is cruel, but because he is overly political. He apparently wants to make the Republicans in Congress appear heartless, to aid the election of Democrats in 2014. Certainly all politicians in DC are concerned about political advantage. But once a man becomes president, he needs to place the needs of everyone in the US ahead of political interests.
Until President Obama does that, you should probably arrive at the airport early and don’t expect your tax refund to arrive soon. And give a break to any grouchy person you run into. They might be a federal employee losing a few days of income, or someone whose vacation was ruined because they could not tour the White House or DC monuments.