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Sequestration’s Impact on Emergency Management Operations

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By Anthony Mangeri

There are just mere hours left before steep and harsh federal spending cuts, known as sequestration, kicks in. Sequestration is a term first used by Congress in 1985 and describes when the government spends more than it has approved in the budget and no one can agree what spending cuts to make. Sequestered is a legal term that means property has been held, pending the resolution of a dispute over rightful ownership. In this case, the U.S. Treasury has sequestered, or taken control, of the funds obligated above the approved budget, even though Congress approved the spending by various federal agencies.

So what does this mean to emergency management and disaster recovery programs? 

According to a recent article by the International Association of Fire Fighters, some $85 billion in budget cuts will include funds for various state and local public-safety programs, which are funded in part by federal grants. 

In correspondence to employees, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has identified several efforts that may be used to reduce spending. FEMA will be looking to reduced hiring and may implement an immediate hiring freeze, limit travel and training, and reduce or eliminate activities that require overtime and compensatory time compensation.

While there are no specifics on exactly what will be cut, there is no doubt that FEMA will need to delay, cut, or eliminate state and local grants that support local and state emergency operations, including emergency management and fire service positions. This has the potential to impact local disaster operations and local ability to effectively respond to and recover from crisis.

According to an article in the Washington Times, The U.S. Department of Homeland Security, which includes FEMA, will have to cut 4.7 percent of its budget, not including relief funds for Hurricane Sandy recovery. That is an estimated reduction of $2.1 billion from the 2012 budget. For FEMA this could be a cut of $672 million of FEMA’s $14.3 billion budget. This is less than the expected $878 million less  than the previously threatened sequester. An overwhelming amount of FEMA’s budget goes to disaster relief programs such as the response and recovery to Hurricane Sandy.

As in previous sequester threats, FEMA will also have to look to programs such as the Pre-Disaster Mitigation Grant Program to cut costs. Currently, FEMA PDM accounts for about $36 million.

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