- Washington Guardian - Sunday, February 10, 2013

Bracing for the possibility of budget sequestration next month, the Homeland Security Department is making plans to furlough as many as 1,000 Secret Service agents, officers and others employees, officials say.

Homeland Security issued its first agency-wide memorandum late last week preparing for sequestration, the sweeping automatic budget cuts set to take effect as early as March 1 under a prior deal between the White House and Congress to reduce the deficit. The Feb. 6 memo advised all federal employees that the “department leadership is engaged in extensive planning efforts” determining how best to deal with the potential budget cuts.

The memo, obtained by the Washington Guardian, hints at specific areas DHS officials are looking to reduce costs, including “operational or administrative costs in areas such as travel, facilities, and supplies.”

DHS officials also warned that they may “have to consider placing employees on temporary furlough, or taking other personnel actions, should sequestration occur.  With respect to furloughs, all affected employees would be provided at least 30 days’ notice prior to executing a furlough.”

The Secret Service, which beyond protecting the president also investigates major financial crimes, is among the agency targeted for extensive furloughs. A Homeland Security official, with knowledge of the impending cuts, told the Washington Guardian that the Secret Service “is looking at reducing their forces by up to a thousand people” but added that “all federal agencies are facing drastic cuts if sequestration happens.”

Secret Service Spokesman Brian Leary said he could not comment on the agency’s sequestration preparations, referring all questions to the White House’s Office of Management and Budget.

OMB did not return numerous emails and calls seeking comment. DHS spokesman Peter Boogaard declined comment on the memo or impending cuts.

The details emerge as the Obama administration and Democrats try to pressure congressional Republicans to stop the sequestration cuts before they take effect, making public plans for specific cuts in national security program that long have been dear to the GOP. 

Although DHS officials have not officially released current plans to handle possible sequestration, Democrats on the House Appropriation’s Committee have.

A “Dear Colleague” letter, signed by former House Appropriation’s Committee ranking Democrat Norm Dicks, of Washington, in October, listed the Secret Service, among other agencies, which will have to make major cuts to balance their budget.

Dicks’ letter noted the Secret Service faces a reduction of 819 personnel “a cut to below FY 2006 force levels from current on-board levels which impacts the work of Special Agents, uniformed division officers, and protective detail personnel.”

Unlike the Defense Department, which has taken the lead in disclosing its plans to make $4 billion in drastic cuts, Department of Homeland Security officials have kept relatively quiet on their internal preparations for the March 1 deadline.

The DHS official, who was not authorized to speak on the matter, added that many agencies, including the Secret Service, have not authorized work “transfers due to the looming budget crisis and the cuts will reduce protective detail personnel.”

Beyond the reduction of personnel to Secret Service, the letter states that the DHS is facing personnel losses of more than 24,000, to include:

reduction of 3,400 Border Patrol agents to below FY 2009 levels.

reduce 7,403 U.S. Coast Guard personnel –facing force levels below FY 2006.

reduce 7,240 Transportation Security Officers

reduction of 932 Immigration and Customs Enforcement  “a decrease of this magnitude would significantly impact efforts to investigate crimes involving counter-proliferation, terrorism, and transnational threats.”

FEMA will see a reduction of 536 core personnel

$116.6 million cut to the Federal Air Marshals program.

Federal employees, however, are expected to report for work on March 1, regardless of sequestration. The Office of Personnel Management issued new supplemental guidelines for administrative furloughs on Jan. 11.

Even “under sequestration, agencies would still have funds available after March 1, but the overall funding for the remainder of the fiscal year would be reduced” and employees should still report to work on March 1, the OPM guidelines state.

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