Sequestration comes

Debate now begins on best ways to trim agencies’ spending

The forced reductions in federal spending that are part of sequestration were never supposed to occur. The combination of defense and nondefense spending cuts were supposed to be so fearsome to both political parties and the White House that the possibility of their implementation would force Congress to agree on more measured budget-balancing steps.

That did not happen. Congress continued its dysfunctional ways, and the deadline for sequestration came and went. Now, its spending reductions, meant to convey calamity, are with us.

As of Sunday, the Federal Aviation Administration was planning today to reduce air-traffic controller staffing at many U.S. airports in response to its reduced budget. Controllers are being forced to take a periodic unpaid day off, which is expected to delay airline traffic. Controllers’ staffing and scheduling is already tight, according to reports, and there is no room for full control-tower operations if controllers work fewer hours.

Not surprisingly, there is disagreement as to whether this is necessary.

A variety of airline and pilots’ associations have challenged in court the FAA’s decision to reduce controllers’ hours. They say that the FAA has other parts of its budget that can accept or absorb budget cuts without involving controllers and impeding airlines’ flight schedules. The members of these organizations have a stake in an uninterrupted full-flying schedule.

Are the FAA professionals accurate, or are they refusing for whatever reason to recognize that there is flexibility in the FAA’s budget?

The country would be better served if this argument was not taking place. Sequestration is living up to the predictions.

Although the U.S. Postal Service’s financial future is not caught up in sequestration, there, too, differences of opinion are impeding forward progress. Congress has refused to allow, at least for the time being, the Postal Service to eliminate Saturday delivery of everything except packages.

While an end to Saturday delivery would not bring the Postal Service’s revenue and spending into balance, it would help. Congress, without providing any alternative cost-cutting suggestions, said “no,” as it said “no” a year ago to eliminating particularly unprofitable rural post offices. Members of both political parties do not want to be known as cutting something so American as the Postal Service.

An argument can be made for heavily underwriting an organization that is so good at connecting Americans through the delivery of printed material. Newspapers and newspaper readers certainly benefit from its existence. The Postal Service operates independent of federal funding, and is heavily in the red, but it would be helpful if Congress played a more constructive role in shaping its financial condition.

Sequestration cuts will be announced by a multitude by federal agencies as time goes by, and their specifics are certain to be debated. Department professionals will have their opinions as to where the effects should occur, while interest groups, Congress and the White House will have theirs.

Members of Congress, who are at their desks for only 2½ days a week, have more important things to involve themselves in.