Republicans blast administration over sequester implementation

US Capitol

House Republicans took federal officials to task for what they say is a reckless failure to plan effectively for spending reductions mandated by the $85 billion in budget cuts known as the sequester, in an occasionally combative joint hearing of two subcommittees of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.

Rep. Blake Farenthold, chairman of the subcommittee on federal workforce, scolded the Obama administration in his opening statement, saying agencies should have spent "more time planning and less time posturing," for the across-the-board spending cuts in the Budget Control Act of 2011. "Sequester was the law of the land," Farenthold said. "Why did federal agencies not have a contingency plan?"

Democrats on the panel countered that the across-the-board cuts mandated under the Budget Control Act of 2011 prevented agencies from implementing the cuts in a targeted or programmatic way. Further, they noted that it is premature to accuse agencies of being slow to share their plans for implementing cuts, since the deadline was set by Congress for April 1 of this year.

"Federal agencies cannot selectively choose which programs or functions to fund, or not fund," said Rep. Matt Cartwright (D-Pa.). "Only explicit congressional action can avoid the widespread consequences from implementations of across-the-board cuts."

Republican members sought hard numbers on plans by the Departments of Agriculture and Commerce on bonuses paid to federal employees. Hari Sastry, deputy assistant secretary for resource management at the Department of Commerce, and Michael Young, director of the office of budget and program analysis at the Agriculture Department, said that agencies were not planning to award bonuses under the sequester.

Agency after agency acts surprised that a law signed by the president 19 months ago actually meant what it said. -- Rep. Darrell Issa.

In advance of the hearing, USDA announced its intention to use its limited authority to make 7-percent transfers between accounts in individual agencies, said Young. The idea, Young said, is to "reduce the disruptive impact of the sequester."

Sastry, whose office said he was testifying reluctantly, said in his prepared testimony that "the planning process has been confounded by the fact that we are currently operating under budgetary uncertainty" under the current continuing resolution. If a new continuing resolution currently under consideration in the Senate becomes law, both Commerce and USDA will receive regular appropriations.

But both the departments came under fire for not making cuts to reduce their overall spending in advance in order to reduce the amount of the savings required under the sequester. Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), chairman of the oversight committee, said, "agency after agency acts surprised that a law signed by the president 19 months ago actually meant what it said."

About the Author

Adam Mazmanian is executive editor of FCW.

Before joining the editing team, Mazmanian was an FCW staff writer covering Congress, government-wide technology policy and the Department of Veterans Affairs. Prior to joining FCW, Mazmanian was technology correspondent for National Journal and served in a variety of editorial roles at B2B news service SmartBrief. Mazmanian has contributed reviews and articles to the Washington Post, the Washington City Paper, Newsday, New York Press, Architect Magazine and other publications.

Click here for previous articles by Mazmanian. Connect with him on Twitter at @thisismaz.

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Reader comments

Wed, Mar 20, 2013

Didn't both parties agree that we were never suppose to come to this i.e. sequestration? I guess that agencies should be taken to task for believing the statements of our elected representatives.

Wed, Mar 20, 2013

The sequester was in the works for well over a year, but there was no effort by this administration to try to work out a way to make it work well. First Obama said that he would veto any bills that tried to get around the the sequester then, near the end of 2012, he purposely stopped any move to plan for the event. Obviously either this man wanted to make this as painful a process as possible or he had his head his head up a**. Now he is trying to blame the Repubs for the mess. This man's political ambitions are a threat to this country, and those who support him are, as Stalin called this type of people, "useful idiots." Time for people to wake up and see the whole picture.

Wed, Mar 20, 2013

The Republicans only wanted those satanic communist social programs cut in the sequestor, not their favorite corporate give-aways.

Wed, Mar 20, 2013 OldCio

You can't really blame the agencies, they have never really had to do a real budget before.........or even worry about how they spend taxpayer dollars

Wed, Mar 20, 2013

Farenthold believes all Federal agencies should have a 'contingency plan' for sequestration and stop 'posturing' in case "Congress" doesn't have a contingency plan for the budget and both sides end up posturing. Ignoring that irony... Agencies have 1 through 5 year plans. This alone, would require a contingency plan for sequestration to be redone every year. The act of sequestration allows time for agencies to create and submit plans. On the, up to now, small possibility of sequestration, how would adding this yearly effort and expense be efficient or beneficial? Other than removing yet another complaint from a Congressman.

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