In the wake of sequestration, U.S. Senator Roy Blunt (Mo.) introduced an amendment today to provide the Obama Administration with the flexibility it claims it currently does not have to ensure "essential" federal employees continue to provide vital services, including meat inspections, control tower operations, and border security.
Blunt's amendment will apply the same standards used during occurrences of inclement weather or other government shutdowns to the sequestration cuts to each agency. The provision is co-sponsored by U.S. Senators Mike Enzi (Wyo.), Deb Fischer (Neb.), John Hoeven (N.D.), Mike Johanns (Neb.), Jim Risch (Idaho), and Roger Wicker (Miss.).
"We should do everything we can to protect Americans' safety and private sector jobs, and this amendment will allow us to put the American people first," said Blunt. "Government spending has grown 19 percent in four years and the federal debt has skyrocketed to more than $16.7 trillion. We can find ways to implement 2.4 percent in spending cuts without compromising private sector job creation or national security."
"President Obama is America's CEO," said Enzi. "It's time for him to accept his responsibility to effectively manage how the federal government runs and make cuts when necessary. By giving him the flexibility to make smarter cuts, he can focus on cutting the worst first while maintaining what America does best. There are plenty of things the federal government doesn't do well and those areas would be the perfect place to start cutting."
"Like many Nebraskans, I believe that we don't need to furlough meat inspectors or jeopardize defense readiness just to cut a fraction of government spending. Instead, I support replacing across-the-board reductions with smarter spending cuts that target wasteful, low-priority programs -- it's a matter of setting priorities," said Fischer. "This important amendment will provide executive agencies with increased flexibility to make necessary spending cuts while also ensuring the federal government can continue to meet its core duties."
"The amendment will ensure essential service will continue under sequester to minimize impacts on the public," said Hoeven. "For example, this will ensure employees like meat inspectors and air traffic controllers will remain on the job."
"With the dramatic spending increases we have seen over the last four years, it's nothing short of embarrassing for Administration officials to cry wolf when faced with making what amounts to less than a three percent spending reduction," said Johanns. "This legislation simply gives agency and department heads the flexibility the President asked for so there is no excuse for essential services to be the first things on the chopping block."
"When governors of either party are faced with a fiscal shortfall in their state, they work to mitigate the budget cuts from impacting the most essential services," said Risch. "They do not look for ways to make it harder on their citizens. This amendment will take away the excuse by agencies that they do not have the flexibility to deal with the modest slowdown in spending required by sequestration."
Since Congress passed the Budget Control Act (BCA) in August 2011, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) has failed to adequately plan for the sequestration cuts to each agency. In fact, according to several letters from OMB last year, federal agencies were instructed not to plan for sequestration.
Senator Blunt recently sent a letter to U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Secretary Tom Vilsack urging him to use his authority to minimize the economic impact of sequestration as it relates to the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS). The letter comes on the heels of recent comments by USDA that sequestration would result in an across-the-board furlough of as much as 15 days for all FSIS employees, including inspectors.
In his response, Vilsack claimed: "When Congress drafted the Budget Control Act of 2011 directing Federal agencies to reduce their spending at specified levels, it included no exemption for essential employees such as FSIS inspectors."
Blunt's amendment would address the Obama Administration's concerns by applying identical language used during occurrences of inclement weather or other government shutdowns to the sequestration cuts to each agency. This is the same language used in guidance from the Clinton Administration in preparation for the 1995 government shutdown.
In April 2011, the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) sent a detailed memo to each federal agency outlining those that would be exempted from furlough during a potential government shutdown. Those employees are considered essential "to ensure the safety of life and protection of property," based on language contained in the Anti-Deficiency Act.
Specifically, Blunt's amendment:
* Defines essential employees using OPM's April 2011 shutdown guidance:
o "[A]n employee that performs work involving the safety of human life or the protection of property, as determined by the head of the agency."
* Provides agencies with funding flexibility so essential services are maintained while non-essential employees are furloughed.
* Ensures that transfers can only be made within agencies to maintain essential employees and may not increase funding for any other purpose.