Local sequestration effects still largely unknown
Post Independent Staff
Glenwood Springs, Colorado CO
GLENWOOD SPRINGS, Colorado – Whatever the local effects may be from across-the-board budgetary cuts to federal programs, known as the “sequester,” they will not be felt any time soon.
And for the time being, there is a virtual gag order on regional federal officials in terms of interviews with local media, according to one U.S. Forest Service official.
Government watchers around the nation are wondering what might happen in towns, cities and counties where there is a large amount of federal property or significant reliance on federal services and bureaucracies such as the USFS and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM).
The sequester was part of the Budget Control Act of 2011, intended to force Congress and the president to cooperate on deficit reduction measures.
In 2013, the sequester is scheduled to force $42.7 billion in cuts to defense spending, $28.7 billion to domestic discretionary programs; $9.9 billion in cuts to Medicare and $4 billion in cuts to other aspects of federal spending, for a total of $85.3 billion in spending reductions, according to an analysis published by The Washington Post.
Some federal agencies already have made preparations for the coming cuts, and even the White House has announced it is canceling public tours of the historic building, according to a Fox News report.
But in most cases, the reaction has been to shut down the flow of information about the issues, at least for now.
“I can’t say anything about it,” said public information officer Bill Kight of the USFS offices in Glenwood Springs, when asked about potential local effects from the sequester.
Instead, Kight contacted senior communications official Stephanie Chan in Washington, D.C., who responded with a two-page letter from Department of Agriculture Secretary Thomas Vilsack to Sen. Barbara Mikulski, chair of the Senate Committee on Appropriations.
Chan also forwarded a five-page list of expected budget cuts for the USFS and other agencies overseen by the Department of Agriculture, which predicted roughly $3 billion in cuts equal to about 12 percent of the departmental budget.
“We don’t have information about the effects that will be felt by local offices,” she said.
According to Vilsack’s letter, the cuts will affect such programs as the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC), elimination of rental assistance for more than 10,000 very low income rural residents, the elderly, the disabled and single female heads of households, and a loss of more than $60 million for agricultural research, among other impacts.
Over at the U.S. Bureau of Land Management near Silt, spokesman David Boyd also referred to a prepared statement from the management of the bureau.
That statement, issued on March 4, predicted that the sequester will significantly diminish the BLM’s ability to manage its public lands, “including management of nationally significant landscapes and oversight of important energy resources.”
Noting that “some of these resources generate significant revenue for federal and state governments,” the statement continued, “the development of oil and gas as well as coal on federal lands will slow down due to cuts in programs that issue permits for new development, plans for new projects, conduct environmental reviews and inspect operations.”
Leasing of federal lands for resource development also may be delayed, the statement declared.
Plus, the statement predicted, the BLM probably will need to scale back services for recreational users of public lands and for fighting fires.
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