Gnomes Underpants Theory of Sequester: Feds Travel Less…???…International Embarassment!


The New York Times continues to salt the wounds caused by the "deep" federal spending cuts known as sequestration with a story about the travel cutbacks to all sorts of taxpayer-financed employment.

Most government travel budgets have been cut this year by 30 percent, the result of an administration directive forcing managers to make difficult policy decisions about whom to send, where to send them and for how long. The result, agency officials say, is a government that cannot conduct essential business and is embarrassing itself abroad….

Given the amount of not just embarassment but death, carnage, and ruin brought about by way too much military traveling over the past dozen or so years, you'd think Americans would be happy to stay closer to home for a while. But no, the Times publishes a photo of Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel with the caption, "Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel in March in Afghanistan, which he now visits less often because of deep spending cuts."

Yeah, Hagel is steering clear of Afghanistan because of "deep spending cuts." It couldn't have anything to do with the often-announced and increasingly imminent withdrawal of U.S. forces from that exotic destination (and the Afghan government's "don't let the door hit you on the way out" attitude," could it?

But it's not just Hagel who's being grounded by the tiny cuts—amounting to 1 percent to 2 percent of total federal spending in fiscal year 2013—comprising the sequester. There's this:

Last year, the United States Geological Survey sent 75 scientists to the annual meeting of the Seismological Society of America to give lectures and trade information. This year, the survey withdrew all but 14, nearly shutting down the Salt Lake City conference in the process.

And this:

At the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta, Barbara Reynolds, a spokeswoman for the agency and a psychologist, said the agency has significantly reduced the travel of its 15,000 employees. Ms. Reynolds said she once traveled around the country training local and state officials in crisis and emergency communications.

If you're wondering just how devastating that's been to the government's ability to sling P.R. bullshit in a pinch, Reynolds clarifies:

"I'm not doing any of that anymore," she said. Instead, Ms. Reynolds said she conducts the training online. "There is some level of concern about doing it that way," she said. "But we are trying to be frugal."

courtesy Wikipedia

As South Park fans will recall, the "Underpants Gnomes Profit Plan" was a simple but infinitely adaptable argument: Phase 1: Collect underpants; Phase 2: ?; Phase 3: Profit!"

So it is with the sequester, a poison pill inserted by President Obama himself during 2011 budget negotiations. The sequester cuts a combined $85 billion in federal spending planned for this year and next. That cuts spending from expected levels. Which leads to, as the Times summarizes government officials, "a government that cannot conduct essential business and is embarrassing itself abroad."

Adjusted for inflation and using constant 2005 dollars (see table 1.3), federal spending increased about 60 percent between 2000 and 2012. Annual budgets now range in the $3.5 trillion range and would be higher still if Obama's got his way (he pushed for almost $3.8 trillion in his budget plan for 2014).

But if stories about defense secretaries not being able to fly to countries we've occupied for years to no clear end and crisis-p.r. consultants being forced to use webinars instead of face-to-face instruction are the worst outcomes that anti-sequester forces can muster in their argument that federal spending is too damn low, well…just give it up already.

Here's a video we did back in February. It's called "5 Sequester Facts to Know Before Committing Suicide" and while some of the figures have changed slightly, it's all still totally on-target. Take a look on a sunny August Monday morning: