Sequestration cuts continue to take their toll, even on firefighting

Sequestration cuts continue to take their toll, even on firefighting

Wed Jul 3, 2013 10:09 AM EDT

Associated Press

Ordinarily on the 4th of July, many U.S. military bases host fireworks displays for the community, but this year, sequestration cuts have caused several cancellations. Camp Lejeune, Fort Bragg, and Shaw Air Force Base, among others, have scrapped the traditional celebrations, citing “fiscal challenges.”

But maybe you don’t care about fireworks displays. Fine. How about the federal court system? Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts explained over the weekend the sequester has hit the U.S. judiciary “particularly hard” and has had a “direct impact” on the ability of the courts to meet public needs.

OK, maybe you don’t care about the courts, either. How about jobs? The New York Times reported late last week that the sequestration cuts “are having a negative effect on jobs in the private sector, according to an analysis of the industries whose head count is most dependent on federal funds.”

Still unconcerned? Fine. How about firefighters?

This year’s across-the-board budget cuts are slicing tens of millions of dollars from the federal government’s funds for battling wildfires, reductions that have meant fewer firefighters and could cause agencies to dip into other programs designed to prevent future blazes.

The U.S. Forest Service’s $2 billion-a-year firefighting budget, which comprises the bulk of the federal effort, has been reduced by 5 percent, a cut that has meant 500 fewer firefighters and 50 fewer fire engines than last year, agency officials say. The Interior Department’s $37.5 million reduction has meant 100 fewer seasonal firefighter positions and other lost jobs as well, department officials say.

The reductions come as officials brace for a wildfire season they say might rival last year’s, when about 9.3 million acres burned, one of the largest totals on record.

Interior Secretary Sally Jewell told the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee that the sequestration policy “reduces our capability and significantly constrains our work in fire response” and restoring land after fires.”

The sequestration cuts were designed to hurt the country, and they were designed quite well — the policy is having the intended effect. The political world seems to have moved on, and it’s fashionable to suggest the sequester is meaningless, but these cuts continue to take a real toll on real people. Congress has the ability to end this pain and turn off the deliberately damaging policy, but for now, it’s not even an option being considered in Washington.


Author: AFGE Local 704

Representing over 900 bargaining unit employees working at the U.S. EPA Region 5 Offices in Chicago, Ann Arbor, MI and Westlake, OH.

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