Faced with sequestration’s budget cuts, President Obama’s administration canceled air shows and threatened slower meat inspections and longer airport security lines.
But none of that sparked the public outcry that the president and congressional Democrats hoped would help restore the 2½ cents cut from each federal dollar being spent this year. Instead, much of the discussion turned to whether the administration was crying wolf.
It took the cuts reaching the airport control towers to bring the cries of pain. The Federal Aviation Administration furloughed its 47,000 employees for the equivalent of about two days a month.
On Monday and Tuesday, furloughs of air traffic controllers contributed to more than 2,200 flight delays, nearly as many as were delayed by weather.
An Associated Press analysis found that the sequester law doesn’t allow steeper cuts in one program to offset cuts in another. Still, one could reasonably question whether the administration did all it could to manage its way through the FAA cutbacks. At minimum, the administration did too little to warn Congress and the public about the scale and impact of the FAA furloughs.
Congress was right to act quickly and give FAA officials the flexibility to better manage the cuts. The sequester was designed as a blunt weapon, and this latest episode shows the clumsy nature of across-the-board cuts.
It’s a shame that all federal agencies can’t get the same flexibility as the FAA, because cuts of this scale are routinely absorbed by the private sector. It would also be a shame if anybody sought political gain from risking the safety of the public in flight.