No doubt you’ve heard much in the news about the budget sequester and the surrounding political fallout. But the effects of the sequester go far beyond politics—many government departments, including those tasked with keeping Americans safe, are now facing burdensome cuts that could leave the U.S. more vulnerable and inefficient than before.
At the top of that list of departments is the Department of Homeland Security. While Congress protected the FY 2013 budget for border security agents, other DHS programs are affected by the sequester’s cuts.
According to Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, the sequester’s effects can lead to major problems for airline passengers, commerce, cyber, and border security. But that’s not all. To fully understand what is going on, let’s first get some background on the sequester and how the DHS is affected. Then, we’ll look at how the effects trickle down to the average American and business person.
What is the Sequester, Anyway?
Sequestration is the general term referring to automatic budget cuts in government spending. The sequester, as it’s been referred to recently in popular media, is a specific problem the U.S. is experiencing in 2013. It began with the passage of the Budget Control Act of 2011 that sought to remedy the federal debt-ceiling crisis of that same year. That Act contained a sequester provision designed to force Congress to create viable financial legislation that would prevent a similar crisis from occurring again.
However, with the failure of Congress to pass such bipartisan legislation before the deadline, funding evaporated from both defense and non-defense budgets. The original idea was that with such deep cuts to programs that affected all political parties, Republicans and Democrats would join forces. Instead, sequestration will cut $85 billion from the budget this year, and more than a trillion over the next decade.
What Does the Department of Homeland Security Do?
This year, the DHS must cut around 5% of its budget.
The DHS is responsible for a wide variety of offices, including the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), Customs and Border Protection (CBP), the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), the office of Intelligence and Analysis (I&A), and the Office of Health Affairs, among several others.
These sub-departments ensure the United States is protected against natural disasters, terrorist threats, and domestic nuclear problems; they are responsible for cyber security, medical epidemics, travel for both passengers and cargo, and even the security of our borders.
Hundreds of thousands of employees work for the DHS as border patrol agents, customs officers, computer experts, and a variety of other important jobs with one goal in mind: keeping America safe. As a result of budget cuts, many of these employees could be furloughed or laid-off.
What the Sequester Means for DHS
The overwhelming view of the sequester is that the budget cuts will seriously hinder government operations in nearly every bureau (except for notable offices like Social Security and Medicaid, as well as veterans’ benefits and similar programs).
Cuts to the DHS, however, could potentially have the most devastating and far-reaching effects of them all.
Potential Problems Every Step of the Way
Worker furloughs will happen before the end of the year. Fewer people working in vital offices have already resulted in:
- Long lines at airports
- Slow cargo travel
- Potentially decreased security in airports and at borders
- Fewer regional airports manned by federal personnel
- Less efficient response to natural disasters and medical epidemics
- Fewer cargo inspectors working to keep the goods that enter the U.S. on container ships and planes safe
Each of these examples could, by itself, have negative impacts on much of the economy as a whole.
If businesspeople, for example, encounter long lines at airports with lessened security, it will take longer to travel, and potentially be more costly. Cargo will be held up as well, which will affect the commerce (and profits) those businesspeople are trying to manage.
As people wait in longer lines at airports and U.S. borders, the incidence of communicable diseases could increase. Since OHA experts are furloughed and can’t help prevent the spread of things like noroviruses or Swine Flu, people will have to miss work, further decreasing the resilience of the recovering U.S. economy.
Meanwhile, cyber threats from countries like China, Iran, and Korea continue to put our safety at risk, as do borders with fewer patrol agents. Plus, each of these employees now suddenly forced to take furlough days without paychecks, will suffer personal financial losses that ultimately affect the economy as a whole. (In fact, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimates that sequestration would inhibit the creation of 750,000 full-time jobs in the fourth quarter alone).
If another storm like Superstorm Sandy would come along at a time like this, the physical and economic devastation would be massive. Secretary Napolitano estimates that the disaster relief fund will lose $1 billion due to sequestration.
The Good News
Under the Continuing Resolution, DHS still has a budget of $39.6 billion for FY 2013 and has requested an increase for FY2014, especially for cybersecurity protection. This means that the 22 agencies of DHS have funds to contract for essential goods and services in 2013 and will have funds for next year, too.
It also means that DHS has $1B in state and local first-responder grants that will be announced and awarded sometime this spring. The first-responder grants include port security grants which protect our nation’s seaports.
Private companies who are part of maritime security teams at seaports are also eligible to apply for these grants. They also can benefit from the state and local first-responder grants by providing needed services to regional and urban law enforcement groups.
As we speak, the President has released his FY 2014 budget for DHS and the rest of the government. We are scanning it now to determine who are the winners and losers and will get back to you shortly on this.