In science the “observer effect” supposes that the act of observing an phenomenon changes it. So it goes with a Washington Post story from Sunday with the headline “They said the sequester would be scary. Mostly, they were wrong.”
The headline comes from claims made mostly by the Obama Administration of what sequestration would cause. Many of the scary things predicted have not happened. Some of it is because Congress created more flexibility than the meat cleaver that was initially part of the sequestration threat.
But U.S. Rep. Derek Kilmer, D-Gig Harbor, has said on several occasions that the technical definition of the kind of cuts made under sequestration is “dumb.” And there are people locally, civilian employees at Keyport as one example, who have felt the real impact of sequestration. And there are cuts that have happened that could take a long, long time for anyone to notice. And by that time they might have forgotten about sequestration. Here are three paragraphs from the story that show some of the impacts and the places where the government cried, “Wolf!”
“Across the government, more than 125,000 employees have been furloughed from the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the Internal Revenue Service, and other agencies. About 650,000 Defense Department civilians will start taking 11 unpaid days next week. Public defenders are losing up to 15 days of pay.
“In 24 cases, however, The Post’s review showed that the predictions were wrong — sequestration had not lived up to the administration’s alarms.
“That included some cases in which furloughs were threatened but then reduced or eliminated. Customs and Border Protection agents, for example, faced up to 14 unpaid days before the Department of Homeland Security shifted money around last month to avoid the furloughs.”
Other parts of the story show where government agencies have made cuts that will benefit taxpayers. There is much less of a tendency to send employees to conferences, which should certainly reduce the likelihood of seeing high-profile abuses like that of the General Services Administration $820,000 conference in Las Vegas. It also means scientists won’t meet as much.
The Post’s story’s emphasis is primarily on the fact that the widespread (It’s important to emphasize “widespread,” because 11 furlough days in my family would be calamitous to us, just not to the entire nation.) calamity predicted by sequestration has not happened. In fact, in some cases it has created effects that could prove to be positive in the long run. Another sequestration round begins in October unless Congress passes a budget. If Congress doesn’t, it’s going to be harder for those who predict disaster to find a believing audience.