Sequestration

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, health IT and the Department of Veterans Affairs. Prior to joining FCW, Mr. Mazmanian was technology correspondent for National Journal and served in a variety of editorial at B2B news service SmartBrief. Mazmanian started his career as an arts reporter and critic, and has contributed reviews and articles to the Washington Post, the Washington City Paper, Newsday, Architect magazine, and other publications. He was an editorial assistant and staff writer at the now-defunct New York Press and arts editor at the About.com online network in the 1990s, and was a weekly contributor of music and film reviews to the Washington Times from 2007 to 2014.

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


FCW in Print

In the latest issue: Looking back on three decades of big stories in federal IT.

Featured

  • FCW @ 30 GPS

    FCW @ 30

    Since 1996, FCW has covered it all -- the major contracts, the disruptive technologies, the picayune scandals and the many, many people who make federal IT function. Here's a look back at six of the most significant stories.

  • Shutterstock image.

    A 'minibus' appropriations package could be in the cards

    A short-term funding bill is expected by Sept. 30 to keep the federal government operating through early December, but after that the options get more complicated.

  • Defense Secretary Ash Carter speaks at the TechCrunch Disrupt conference in San Francisco

    DOD launches new tech hub in Austin

    The DOD is opening a new Defense Innovation Unit Experimental office in Austin, Texas, while Congress debates legislation that could defund DIUx.

  • Shutterstock image.

    Merged IT modernization bill punts on funding

    A House panel approved a new IT modernization bill that appears poised to pass, but key funding questions are left for appropriators.

  • General Frost

    Army wants cyber capability everywhere

    The Army's cyber director said cyber, electronic warfare and information operations must be integrated into warfighters' doctrine and training.

  • Rising Star 2013

    Meet the 2016 Rising Stars

    FCW honors 30 early-career leaders in federal IT.

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.

Please post your comments here. Comments are moderated, so they may not appear immediately after submitting. We will not post comments that we consider abusive or off-topic.

Please type the letters/numbers you see above

More from 1105 Public Sector Media Group