The Government Accounting Office (GAO) has recently released its summary of the effects of the 2013 sequester. And, it’s not pretty. For 2013, the federal government reduced its budget by $85.3 billion dollars by cutting federal programs, furloughing employees and delaying services to stakeholders. But, like it or not, and there are those who do believe the government is spending too much, this is the new reality, the federal government is going to have to do more with less.
While proponents of reducing federal spending argue that it is for the greater good of America, the reality is that we all benefit from federal spending. From the roads we drive on, to the disasters that we recover from, to the borders that are protected. Each of us benefits from an Uncle Sam who is generous, and when he is not paying out, we all suffer.
Here are some highlights from the GAO report:
Employee Morale Falls
The GAO investigators found that over 770,000 federal employees were furloughed creating a period of anxiety for those who were released from service. Most federal agencies have reduced or eliminated overtime. Trainings have been cancelled and travel reduced. Positions are being eliminated. For federal employees, this is a period of uncertainty and it reflects in the internal polls the government takes of its employees. But it was not just federal employees that were furloughed, contractors that provide services to the federal government also furloughed their employees. For example, the Department of Energy found that its contractors furloughed over 3,600 employees.
Reduced Federal Hiring
Have you been looking for a federal job on USA Jobs lately? A lot less jobs are being posted as a result of the sequester. Across the board, agencies have eliminated positions shuffling more responsibilities onto fewer employees. And, for those employees who are leaving, their positions are not being filled. The Small Business Administration reported that by not replacing lost employees it saved $9.5 million dollars. FEMA introduced its FEMA Corps program, a cadre of 18-24 year olds who would volunteer their services and estimated it would save $60 million a year in labor costs going forward. The Department of Energy reported its contractors eliminated over 1,000 positions.
The Innocent Victims
Women, children, and homeless people, people whose voices are often not heard, were particularly hard hit by the sequester. The Department of Agriculture reported that 142,000 participants of their Women, Infants, and Children Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program, which provides women and children with fresh vegetables, were removed from their participation roles. The Department of Housing and Urban Development reports that 60,000 homeless people were removed from shelters when HUD grants were eliminated. The Department of Health and Human Services reports that 57,000 children were removed from their respective Head Start programs.
The OMB report makes it clear that many effects of the sequester will not be known for some time. Health and Human Services will not know what the effects of the sequester were on Medicare recipients until it conducts an audit this year. The Department of Education which cut grants to local school districts is unable to determine if local school boards were able to make up the differences by increasing local taxes. But, it is obvious if the federal government is not making payments, then local users will have to make up the payments; school taxes will go up or teachers will be laid off and Medicare recipients, those on fixed incomes, will have to pay more for their doctors’ visits.
There are those in Congress that are pontificating for greater cuts to government services. It is possible that the sequester of 2013 may be the beginning of a period of contracted government spending for years to come. And, for those employees of the government, recipients of federal dollars, and users of anything that the federal government pays for, it could be a period of uncertainty, delays and frustration for years to come.