With sequester cuts imminent, local federal employees brace for impact


by MARK WIGGINS / KVUE News and photojournalist ROBERT MCMURREY

Bio | Email | Follow: @MarkW_KVUE


Posted on March 1, 2013 at 7:19 PM

Updated Friday, Mar 1 at 7:19 PM

AUSTIN -- For the average taxpayer, concern over the looming budget cuts varies. 
"I'm not sure what you're talking about," a group of tourists from Florida responded when asked about the impending sequester. "We haven't heard anything about that." 
"I think it's another manufactured crisis from Congress," said Los Angeles resident Neel Ketkar. "They just need to deal with it and get things done." 
"Well it's a shame that we're going to allow a non-strategic decision to rule how we begin to rein in spending," said Baltimore resident Joe Ross. "I think everybody recognizes that we've got to do something different but it seems to me they could be adult."
In Central Texas, the sequester's biggest impact will fall on roughly 10,000 people employed by the federal government, many of whom face furloughs and diminishing paychecks as a result of lawmakers' inability to reach a deal to reduce the deficit before the Friday deadline. 
"Our employees have been really confused and shattered by what could happen," said National Treasury Employees Union (NTEU) Austin Chapter 247 President Eddie Walker. "What impact it's going to be on their families. The financial impact."
The union represents employees in U.S. Customs and Border Protection as well as the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). Walker warns furloughs for border agents could result in longer lines at border crossings, as well as a diminished ability to police international traffic.
While the IRS announced this week furloughs would be put off until the end of the current tax season, significant effects could be felt down the road. According to Walker, efforts by the IRS over recent years to investigate and prosecute identity theft committed using stolen tax returns could suffer, and taxpayers down the road could face significant inconvenience.
"This is going to have a major impact on folks who are waiting for a refund or trying to get questions answered," said Walker. "I think it's going to be very difficult for them." 
"A lot of the fear factor that has been put out, that's just not going to happen," said Central Texas Rep. John Carter (R-TX).
A member of the House Appropriations Committee, Carter says a deal currently on the table could give departments like the military more flexibility in how cuts are made, but a final solution is still up in the air.
"The House has had a standing offer to the Senate, send us your fix for sequestration," said Carter. "We will then pass something and we'll go to conference and we'll try to work this out. We still can do it. We can still end the sequestration by doing something else, but we have to have leadership."
So are taxpayers concerned?
"A little bit, but they always seem to push this till the end and figure it out at the end," said Ketkar.
"No," replied Ross. "It's hard for me to step back and say, 'Jeez we can't run the country on 98 percent of what we were running the country on.' I just have a hard time believing that."
Just how much of it will hit the man on the street remains to be seen.

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