Sunday, March 10, 2013

Internal E-Mails Tell Feds to Make Sequester Cutbacks Painful to the General Public

According to an Animal & Plant Inspection Service internal e-mail, an agency official was specifically instructed not to do anything that would lessen or minimize impact to the public ahead of the sequester cuts this month.
In the internal email, Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service official Charles Brown said he asked if he could try to spread out the sequester cuts in his region to minimize the impact, and he said he was told not to do anything that would lessen the dire impacts Congress had been warned of.

“We have gone on record with a notification to Congress and whoever else that ‘APHIS would eliminate assistance to producers in 24 states in managing wildlife damage to the aquaculture industry, unless they provide funding to cover the costs.’ So it is our opinion that however you manage that reduction, you need to make sure you are not contradicting what we said the impact would be,” Mr. Brown, in the internal email, said his superiors told him.

Neither Mr. Brown nor the main APHIS office in Washington returned calls seeking comment, but Agriculture Secretary Thomas J. Vilsack, who oversees the agency, told Congress he is trying to give flexibility where he can.

“If we have flexibility, we’re going to try to use it to make sure we use sequester in the most equitable and least disruptive way,” the secretary told Rep. Kristi L. Noem, a South Dakota Republican who grilled Mr. Vilsack about the email. “There are some circumstances, and we’ve talked a lot about the meat inspection, where we do not have that flexibility because there are so few accounts.”

Ms. Noem told Mr. Vilsack that the email made it sound like the administration was sacrificing flexibility in order to justify its earlier dire predictions.

“I’m hopeful that isn’t an agenda that’s been put forward,” the congresswoman told Mr. Vilsack.
The content of the e-mail is similar to what US Park Ranger who chose to remain anonymous told Fox News. According to a March 9th article, the National Parks Service had overruled plans to deal with the sequester that would've had marginal impact on the public and was told instead to axe special events, talks, tours and other educational or information services.
"Apparently, they want the public to feel the pain," the ranger said.

The National Park Service is among many federal agencies warning of a major impact from the sequester cuts, which took effect last Friday. The agency has warned of delayed access to portions of Yellowstone and Yosemite national parks, closed campgrounds at Great Smoky Mountains National Park, reduced hours at the Grand Canyon visitor center and other ramifications.

The Obama administration says these cuts must be made in order to make the $85 billion in cuts from Congress' failure to avert the sequester. At the NPS, the agency was dealing with an across-the-board 5 percent cut.

At the Park Service, the alleged incident occurred in one region and it's unclear whether other divisions were given similar guidance.
Last week the White House announced that tours were being cancelled until further notice, blaming cuts related to the sequester, even though the tours cost an estimated $74,000 per week- a fraction of the cost of President Obama's recent trip to Hawaii and golf vacation in Florida.

Even before the March 1st Sequester went into effect, the Department of Homeland Security released illegal immigrants from detention centers across the country in late February.
Gillian Christensen, an ICE spokeswoman, said ICE has reviewed "several hundred cases" of immigrants being held in jails around the country and released them in the last week. They have been "placed on an appropriate, more cost-effective form of supervised release," she said.

Christensen said the agency's "priority for detention remains on serious criminal offenders and other individuals who pose a significant threat to public safety." She did not say how released immigrants were selected or what jails they were released from.
The release of thousands of illegal immigrants ahead of the sequester led to accusations that the Obama Administration and DHS was playing politics with public safety ahead of the sequestration deadline. Homeland security chief Napolitano claimed that the relase of such a large number of inmates wasn't out of the ordinary and that the decision was left to her subordinates in Homeland Security, not the White House.

Napolitano also claimed that lines at airports were "150% to 200% as long as what we wound normally expect" due to sequestration cuts to the TSA and US Customs, but media inquiries to the airports that Napolitano mentioned (Los Angeles, Atlanta and Chicago's O'Hare) found there were no significant delays.

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