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RIFs and furloughs possible if sequestration occurs, says Napolitano

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The Coast Guard would curtail air and surface operations by nearly 25 percent and a significant portion of frontline Homeland Security Department personnel would be furloughed for up to 14 days should sequestration begin on March 1, says Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano. Across-the-board cuts could also potentially result in reductions in force, Napolitano said, using the government term for layoffs.

In a Feb. 13 letter (.pdf) sent in response to a request from Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.), the ranking member of the House Homeland Security Committee, Napolitano said the overall effect of across-the-board spending cuts would be to increase national risk.

Sequestration, originally set to take effect in January following the November 2011 failure of a joint congressional committee to settle on a $1.5 trillion deficit reduction plan, is now set to exact automatic cuts of $85 billion equally divided between defense and nondefense spending starting in March.

Many in Congress have said sequestration is inevitable; speaking with Capitol Hill reporters Feb. 12, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said it seems "pretty clear to me that sequester is going to go into effect," adding that there is "no evidence that the House plans to act on this matter before the end of the month."

The next day, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), standing behind a podium marked with the Twitter hashtag #obamaquester, said it's up to Democrats in the other chamber and President Obama to make the next move. "It is incumbent upon the president and Senate Democrats to show us their plan and stop the sequester from going into place," he said.

Other consequences of sequester noted by Napolitano in her letter include reduction of the disaster relief fund by more than $1 billion. The DRF is the pot of money the Federal Emergency Management Agency uses to fund public and individual assistance grants following presidential declarations of major disasters.

In addition, research and development by the Science and Technology Directorate would halt in the areas of biothreat countermeasures, cybersecurity, improvements to aviation security and others.

Passenger wait times at airport security "would substantially increase" since the Transportation Security Administration would reduce it frontline workforce. Customs and Border Protection would also reduce staffing levels, which would also "slow screening and entry programs for those traveling into the United States."

Immigration and Customs Enforcement would not be able to sustain current detention and removal operations of illegal aliens, or maintain the 34,000 detention beds mandated by Congress, Napolitano's letter says.

She also calls attention to the effect sequestration would have on DHS internal management, stating that it would hinder financial system modernization.

"Even in this current fiscal climate, we do not have the luxury of making significant reductions to our capabilities without placing our Nation at risk," she concludes.

For more:
- download Napolitano's Feb. 13 letter (.pdf)

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