Long Lines, Flight Delays Seen From U.S. Spending CutsAlan Levin and Jeff Plungis
Hours-long lines and flight delays at U.S. airports may be among the results if Congress and President Barack Obama don’t agree to stop automatic spending cuts at government agencies, according to a U.S. House analysis.
The Transportation Security Administration would reduce its front-line workforce, including seven-day furloughs for airport screeners during the fiscal year, adding as much as an hour to lines at security checkpoints, Democrats on the House Appropriations Committee said in a report today.
Customs and Border Protection workers would have to take 12 days to 14 days off without pay during the fiscal year, increasing peak wait times for international travelers by three hours or more at busy airports, the lawmakers said. Air-traffic controllers and other Federal Aviation Administration workers would take about 11 days of mandatory time off, they said.
“Travel could become the face of the sequester,” said Geoff Freeman, chief operating officer and executive vice president of the U.S. Travel Association. “There are few areas that Americans are going to be touched more directly.”
Next month’s deadline for the cuts to take effect marks another fiscal showdown between Obama, his Democratic allies and congressional Republicans. Without a deal, $1.2 trillion in across-the-board spending cuts, known as sequestration, will take effect on March 1.
Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, in a letter to the Senate Appropriations Committee released yesterday, said the budget cuts would affect aviation security, roll back border security and hamper disaster response times.
The department “simply cannot absorb the addition reduction” without harming “frontline operations and our nation’s previous investments in the homeland security enterprise,” Napolitano said today in testimony to a Senate appropriations panel hearing.
About half the automatic cuts would affect defense spending, meaning less training for Army personnel and fewer purchases of Navy vessels and Air Force fighter jets.
The effects on the defense industry would be “devastating,” Deputy Defense Secretary Ashton Carter said at the hearing.
“All this is the collateral damage of political gridlock,” Carter said.
Expedited reviews of 550 offshore oil and gas drilling sites for production permits “would be thwarted” if the cuts take place, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said in a letter to Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Barbara Mikulski, a Maryland Democrat.
In Western states such as Wyoming, Utah, Colorado and New Mexico, leases would also face delays, which would defer royalty payments to the Treasury, he said.
Hours and services at national parks would be reduced, and Interior wouldn’t be able to have a full complement of firefighters and law-enforcement personnel, he said.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation would have to furlough employees and eliminate or reduce task forces that would “materially reduce the FBI’s investigative capacity” on mortgage fraud, computer crime, terrorism and financial fraud, Attorney General Eric Holder wrote in a letter to Mikulski.
The Environmental Protection Agency said it would have 1,000 fewer inspections to enforce environmental laws, which would “limit EPA’s capacity to identify toxic air emissions, water discharges, and other sources of pollution, ” acting Administrator Robert Perciasepe said in his letter, dated Feb. 6.
It would also delay research on climate change and adaptation and force the shutdown of some air-monitoring sites, he said.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture would need to cut $2 billion from its budget immediately, Secretary Tom Vilsack wrote to Mikulski.
The reductions include $333 million from the Women, Infants and Children nutrition-assistance program, $51 million in food-safety spending that would require staff furloughs and closing uninspected meat plants, and $134 million less in wildfire management, he wrote.
Energy Secretary Steven Chu said the automatic cuts could reduce the number of homes eligible for energy-efficiency upgrades and delay nuclear waste clean-up at sites in Washington, Tennessee, South Carolina and Idaho.
The Commerce Department said weather forecasts and timely storm warnings will be compromised by the furloughs of 2,600 employees in the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which includes the National Weather Service. NOAA will leave 2,700 positions vacant and cut 1,400 contractors, Deputy Commerce Secretary Rebecca Blank wrote.
The FAA would face budget reductions of about $627 million for the fiscal year ending Sept. 30, according to a Feb. 11 letter to agency employees from Administrator Michael Huerta. The agency has an annual budget of about $16 billion.
As many as 10 percent of the FAA’s 40,000 workers involved in operations would be on furlough on any specific day, the House report concluded.
“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,” Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said in a letter to Mikulski. “The result will be felt across the country, as the volume of traffic must be decreased.”
The business impact of airport delays would begin with airlines and would quickly affect hotels, rental-car companies, tourist attractions and local businesses who depend on out-of-