Press Largely Ignores GAO Finding That Sequestration Led to Just One Federal Layoff

May 14th, 2014 12:20 AM

According to a Government Accountability Office report released in March but inexplicably only getting attention just now, the pain resulting from last year's sequestration "cuts," which were mostly reductions in the growth of spending in comparison to the previous year, bore no resemblance to the Armageddon-like warnings which preceded their imposition. Only one federal employee was laid off. You read that right — one. Only seven agencies out of 22 furloughed any employees, and they were ultimately given $2 billion in back pay.

What the results exposed by the GAO demonstrate, in addition to the fact that the government had plenty of places to cut and funds to access to keep its operations going without meaningfully affecting the federal workforce, is either that almost nobody in the establishment press cared about what the GAO had to say, or that if they did, they didn't believe that they should tell the nation that the Obama administration's scare tactics had no basis. Excerpts from one of the establishment press reports I found via CBS News's Stephanie Condon predictably turned the whole thing into a "Republicans attack" exercise:

GOP senator charges feds with exaggerating sequester's impact

Stop. Right. There. This is just ridiculous.

Memo to Stephanie Condon: That the "feds" — and by that you mean the Obama administration led by the President himself, in speech after speech after speech — exaggerated (i.e., completely fabricated) the sequester's impact is an observed and confirmed fact. It is not something a "GOP senator" has merely charged. An example of a correct headline only four characters longer would have been: "GOP Senator Asks OMB Why Sequestration Cuts Had Little Impact."

Condon's content isn't any better (links are in original; bolds and numbered tags are mine):

Conservative Sen. Tom Coburn [1], R-Okla., on Wednesday requested more information from the Obama administration on the impact of the so-called "sequester," suggesting that the across-the-board budget cuts haven't had the dire economic consequences that were predicted. [2]

Coburn's inquiry to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) was prompted by a March report from the nonpartisan Government Accountability Office, which found that just one person was laid off by a federal agency because of the sequester.

The report detailed several other consequences of the sequester -- including the fact that hundreds of thousands of government workers faced furloughs last year, and nearly every federal agency curtailed hiring in response to the cuts -- but Coburn said the report's findings offered "good news" for federal employees. He called it "devastating to the credibility of Washington politicians and administration officials."

"The American people deserve to know the truth, especially if it suggests politicians' favorite programs can endure far more in budget cuts than sequestration imposed," he said in a statement.

Specifically, Coburn asked the OMB to provide him with information such as the number of permanent, federal civilian employees over the last five years and a list of agencies that have reduced their workforce because of the sequester. He also asked about the legal obstacles hindering agencies from making further reductions.

The across-the-board "sequester" cuts, which amounted to $85.3 billion in 2013, were required after Congress failed to reach a better budget agreement in 2011. When the cuts were finally applied in March 2013, President Obama said they were "just dumb." [3]

"I don't anticipate a huge financial crisis, but people are going to be hurt," he said. "The longer the cuts remain in place, the greater the damage to our economy."


[1] — There was no reason to tag Coburn as a "conservative," at least unless and until I see the press apply the "liberal" tag in equal measure. In this instance, I guess we're supposed to assume that only "conservative" politicians are concerned about the federal government crying wolf.

[2] — Again, it isn't a "conservative" senator "suggesting that the across-the-board budget cuts haven't had the dire economic consequences that were predicted." It is an objective fact "that the across-the-board budget cuts haven't had the dire economic consequences that were predicted."

[3] — Although Condon was careful to limit the time frame of her Obama reference, President Obama did far more than call the "cuts" (again, predominantly reductions in spending increases compared to the prior year) "just dumb." (Let's also not forget that sequestration was his idea.) On February 28, 2013, the day before Condon's arbitrary cutoff, the Politico reported the following Obama prediction:

President Barack Obama says the sequester will cause a "tumble downward" for the economy. He acknowledges many people may not immediately notice the full impact of the so-called sequester cuts if they take effect Friday. But he says yanking $85 billion from the economy this year would be a "big hit" on a nation still trying to fully recover from a recession.

A Google News search on "sequestration layoffs" (not in quotes) at 11:50 PM ET Tuesday returned about 75 relevant items, a large majority of which are from center-right blogs and outlets. A search at the Associated Press's site on sequestration returned nothing relevant.

Adapting a point I made in late April, the reason politicians and bureaucrats can continue to scaremonger about the horrors of budget "cuts" while running largely unaccountable agencies with shoddy controls and little accountability is that the press isn't interested in "boring" things like responsible stewardship of taxpayer dollars. In this instance, there's likely another motivation, namely that exposing the Obama administration as having cried wolf will make it that much harder to try such a tactic next time and may put the brakes on runaway government spending. We simply cannot allow that.

Cross-posted at