WASHINGTON – Before sequestration took effect, the Obama administration issued specific – and alarming – predictions about what it would bring.
There would be one-hour waits at airport security. Four-hour waits at border crossings. Prison guards would be furloughed for 12 days. FBI agents, up to 14.
Around the country, 600,000 low-income women and children would be denied federal food aid.
But none of those things happened.
Sequestration did hit, on March 1. And since then, the $85 billion budget cut has caused real reductions in many federal programs that people depend on. But it has not produced what the Obama administration predicted: widespread breakdowns in crucial government services.
The Washington Post recently checked 48 of those dire predictions about sequestration’s effect.
In 11 cases, sequestration turned out to be as bad as advertised, or worse.
The Labor Department had predicted that emergency unemployment benefits for the long-term unemployed would be cut by 9.4 percent. But in some states, the reductions have been larger: 11 percent. For an individual, that could mean $450 less in benefits this year.
At the Pentagon, officials had predicted that they would reduce training for the Army, flying time for the Air Force and ship deployments for the Navy. They did all three.
Across the government, more than 125,000 employees have been furloughed from the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the Internal Revenue Service, and other agencies. About 650,000 Defense Department civilians will start taking 11 unpaid days next week. Public defenders are losing up to 15 days of pay.
In 13 more cases, the results were unclear. In 24 cases, however, the Post’s review showed that the predictions were wrong – sequestration had not lived up to the administration’s alarms.
In some cases, agencies dug into their budgets and found millions they could spare. In other cases, Congress passed a law that allocated new funds or shifted money around. In others, lawmakers signed off on an agency’s proposal to reprogram its money.
The Justice Department, for instance, cut more than $300 million in what it called expired balances. In essence, this was money that had been allocated to the department in past years but wasn’t spent. U.S. Park Police officers were supposed to have 12 days of furloughs. They took three. The National Park Service found $4 million in savings in its budget.