GAO details sequestration’s impact on agencies

The top-level bumps and bruises caused by sequestration have been more than apparent since the major cuts went into effect last March. But a new Government Accountability Office report released Wednesday shows in detail how the decrease in funding reduced or delayed federal, state and local government operations. 

Through examination of six agencies and bureaus in cabinet-level departments the GAO studied the impact of sequestration on approximately 77 percent of total defense funding and 36 percent of non-defense funding.

According to the report, DOD said limited or canceled training could increase the number of non-deployable units and lead to a skills gap. The sequester cuts also led to a decreased surge capacity, which could make it difficult to maintain readiness for future crises.


For the Education Department, the budget reductions caused a decrease in resources for extra instruction and an increase in class sizes.

Health and Human Services Department’s Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services had to reduce the frequency of surveys that determine care quality.

“At psychiatric hospitals [surveys went] from once every three years to once every four to five years,” the report said. “[At] specialized organ transplant centers from once every three years to once every four to six years.”

Wait times increased at border crossing stations managed by U.S. Customs and Border Protection, the report said.

“Sequestration reductions did not leave them with sufficient funds to provide the overtime necessary to fully staff inspection booths, which resulted in increased average wait times for international passengers,” the report said. The increases varied from nearly three minutes at one airport to almost six at another.


And at the Housing and Urban Development’s Office of Public and Indian Housing, public housing authorities provided rental assistance to 2.2 percent fewer “very low-income households” because of the funding drop, affecting approximately 41,000 households.

This report, which builds upon another on the effects of the sequester released in March, examines the funding cuts in greater detail, focusing on “operations, performance and services.” GAO also examined how the agencies and departments planned for the sequester cuts.

While preparation for the impending cuts varied among agencies, most struggled with the uncertainty “regarding the timing and amount of sequestration and technical questions about how to apply sequestration to certain complex accounts” and that “uncertainty surrounding the timing and amount of sequestration limited some components’ ability to substantively communicate with program partners and recipients, making it difficult for partners to plan and execute their budgets during the fiscal year,” the report said.

The House Committee on the Budget declined to comment on the most recent report.

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