WASHINGTON—Janet Napolitano, secretary of the Department Homeland Security (DHS), shook her head in despair when asked about the effects sequestration would have on homeland security Tuesday.
“I have been in government service a long time, a long time—20 years almost,” she said. “I have never seen anything like this. It will have to affect our core, critical mission areas.”
Speaking at the D.C.-based think tank the Brookings Institution in honor of the department’s 10th anniversary, the former Arizona attorney general said that the automatic budget cuts, which would see $85 billion in across-the-board spending cuts in the first year, would force cuts across all areas of her department and set it back from further development.
“It means we can’t continue to invest and build,” she added.
Napolitano said that the DHS has come a long way since its inception following the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center. Terrorists have benefited from intelligence failures, institutional barriers to information sharing, weak visa and border control, and gaps in aviation security, she said, adding that emergency response, too, has been hampered by a lack of coordination.
Twenty-two government agencies have since been combined to form the DHS, which now oversees internal terrorist threats, border security, immigration enforcement, disaster management, emergency response, and most recently, cybersecurity.
“The cyberrealm wasn’t even a major focus of the early department. Now, it is one of our five core mission areas,” she said.
Speaking in a press briefing Monday, Napolitano said that sequestration would hit her department hard, as the DHS is heavy in personnel.
The impact of the cuts would not be immediate, she said, but over time, as furloughs are implemented, there would be staff reductions in agencies like the U.S. Border Patrol, the U.S. Coast Guard, first responders, emergency relief workers, and the Transportation Security Administration. Those reductions would mean increasing delays at all U.S. ports of entry, including cruise ship terminals, airports, and freight depots.
Political Wrangling Continues
House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) called on the Senate Tuesday to produce a bill to resolve the impasse on sequestration.
“It’s time for the Senate to act,” Boehner said, according to Politico. “It’s not about the House. We’ve acted.”
House Republicans have passed two proposals on deficit reduction, but both involve shifting cuts away from defense to social programs and offer little in the way of raising revenue.
President Barack Obama highlighted the impact of the impending cuts to defense at a Newport News, Va., shipbuilding yard on Tuesday. He said that he is prepared to compromise, but will not exclude raising revenue through closing tax loopholes.
“Nobody is asking [Republicans] to raise income tax rates. All we’re asking is to consider closing tax loopholes and deductions that the Speaker of the House, John Boehner, said he was willing to do just a few months ago,” he said.
Republicans have accused Obama and Cabinet members of over-dramatizing the effects of sequestration.
“For 16 months, the president has been traveling all over the country holding rallies instead of sitting down with Senate leaders in order to try to forge an agreement over there in order to move a bill,” Boehner said Tuesday, according to The Huffington Post. He accused Obama of heading to Virginia “to use our military men and women as a prop.”
Napolitano said that she is receiving mixed messages from members of Congress on the cuts.
She said that last week, she fielded questions before a judiciary committee on how to increase security along the U.S. southwest border as part of immigration reform, only to field questions before an appropriations committee the next day on how to cut costs in border security.
“Trying to do both at the same time is really an impossible task,” she said.
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