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Marketplace
6 degrees of sequestration

The beat of the sequester furloughs marches on

Sally Herships and Katie Long May 24, 2013
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If you happen to have a burning question for the IRS, HUD or the EPA, it’ll have to wait until next week. As a result of sequester, some government offices are closed today as part of the largest wave of government closures since the mid-nineties.

Linda Bilmes, a professor of public policy at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, thinks the sequester, is, to put it quite simply, “dumb”.
 
“Because it treats everything the same,” Bilmes says. “It cuts cancer research and air traffic controllers the same as it cuts the window shades at the regional office of the IRS in Cleveland,” she says.
 
The IRS is closed today. Bilmes says the government is thinking short term and forgetting about long term costs. She notes that if a taxpayer makes a mistake during one of the IRS’s furloughed days, it means more work for the revenue service in the end.
 
“Over the long term, it will require more government intervention to sort out the tax form and return it to the tax payer, or audit it, than we’re saving in the short term of furlough,” she says. 

Some government closures may be felt immediately. Tori Lyon, executive director of the Jericho Project, works with the homeless in New York . She says HUD’s closure means funding and paperwork delays for non-profits like hers.
 
“It’s really a hard way to do business when your focus should be on helping homeless people and instead you’re worried about when you’re going to get your contract,” she says.

Harvard’s Linda Bilmes says furloughs may mean a penny saved, but in the end, they really represent a dollar wasted.


Here at Marketplace, we’ve been following the sequester and its impacts closely. Follow along with our furlough expo below:

Federal Aviation Administration: There has been a lot of talk about the potential consequences of sequester furloughs, but little action — with one exception: FAA furloughs. Earlier this month, Congress suspended its automatic FAA spending cuts.

Airlines complained the cuts, which decreased the number of air traffic controllers, would harm their bottomlines and cause flight delays. One JFK air traffic controller shared his take on the first day of cut backs. And, never fear, corporate jets will live to fly another day.

Public Defenders: Public lawyers who defend the nation’s poor in federal courts across the country say sequester budget cuts will force them to cut back on hours and delay cases. Some federal courts have already announced they’ll stop trying criminal cases on Fridays.

Internal Revenue Service: The sequestration may cause more disruptions than justdelayed refund checks at the IRS. The budget cuts could give an edge to tax evaders and cheats, who already cost the government billions of dollars each year. If workers are furloughed, the IRS would have fewer eyeballs to scour tax returns.

Department of Agriculture: The threat of broad, sweeping federal budget cuts points out just how dependent a lot of things are on the federal government, including our dinner choices. Sequestration could leave America’s meat inspectors sitting on their couches at home, not inspecting meat. Between March and September, USDA inspectors may need to take as many as 15 days off without pay.

Department of Defense: Some federal workers stand to lose as much as 20 percent of their pay. Erika Townes, a nurse at Andrews Air Force base in Maryland, describes how she plans to cope with the gap in salary. And get advice from our Marketplace Money team on how to deal with the uncertainty of a pay cut.

Curious how today’s sequester compares to budget cuts past? Check out our guide here.

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