By ERIC PIANIN, The Fiscal Times
February 8, 2013
“This is not a game, this is reality,” retiring Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta declared in a speech at Georgetown University on Wednesday, as he warned that the cuts would curtail U.S. naval operations in the western Pacific by as much as a third and force one-month furloughs for as many as 800,000 Pentagon civilian employees beginning this spring.
Government officials, major defense contractors and policy think tanks have warned that – if allowed to occur –sequestration would result in the loss of a million or more jobs across the country in the coming year. The anticipation of a sharp reduction in government spending already has begun to hurt the economy, with the gross domestic product contracting by 0.1 percent during the fourth quarter of 2012, according to a government report released last week.
[The] threat of a further decline in the workforce, lawmakers and government officials say that the furloughs would pose major inconvenience and problems for many Americans. These include:
About a 10 percent reduction in the FAA’s 40,000-man workforce
A 25 percent decline in Coast Guard air and surface operations
An increase in waiting times at the nation’s busiest airports by as much as three hours with the furloughing of customs agents
Elimination of Head Start programs for some 70,000 disadvantaged children
The shuttering of food plants that won’t be able to operate without federal meat and poultry inspectors.
Reduction in embassy security as the State Department will be forced to absorb a $168 million reduction in funding for that purpose.
Cutbacks in clerks and other personnel to process applications for Social Security and Medicare, or to process paper tax returns or field taxpayers’ questions at the Internal Revenue Service.