Sequestration

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

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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:

NEXT: Mogadishu to Get First Traffic Lights in 20 Years

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  1. Now if they’d actually cut spending…

    I know, I’m dreaming again.

  2. I’m no MBA, but shouldn’t the gnomes add a fourth step in which they reinvest some of their profits so as to expand their underwear-collection operation?

    1. No, the Gnomes should grossly exaggerate their underwear profits, then sell their shares.

      1. That’s only a short term solution, reinvestment is a less assholish move that still makes money long-term.

      2. Or bundle hundreds of pairs of underwear into a single investment package.

        1. And then sell derivatives based upon the value of those underpants.

        2. Or get people to buy the underwear on loan, using the underwear as security. Then sell the loans to banks and pocket the cash.

    2. They have not actually gotten to the step of getting profits so they have not yet figured out what to do with those profits.

      1. They should use their profits to buy underwear, I hear that they are in demand.

  3. so basically, we’re now Somalia?

    1. But – Somalia now has street lights for it’s ROADZ1!1!!

    2. This is how Somalia got the way it is today, they changed from in person CDC crisis training to on line based training and everything went to hell.

  4. I think our government does a splendid job of embarrassing itself right here at home without having to travel abroad to do so. All the ineptness we’ve come to expect, just at reduced savings. It’s really a win-win for the American taxpayer!

  5. 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.

    This reminds me of the recurring tales of woe about “Military cutbacks are killing airshows across America! Women and children hardest hit.”

    1. 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.

      I call that a decent start. The millions wasted on government “messaging” is not only wasted, it perpetuates propaganda.

  6. Don’t forget about the Childrenz!
    Devastating – nay DRACONIAN cuts to a popular but wildly unsuccessful program FOR THE CHILDREN.
    http://www.washingtonpost.com/…..ml?hpid=z4

  7. Sequester is definitely hitting the military contracting field pretty heavily. But I’m okay with that because frankly there are a lot of contractors who add little to no value to their government client and the field could stand to be pared down…a lot. And the ones who aren’t wastes of space will be able to find a job elsewhere if they lose their current one, perhaps even in the real private sector, especially if they have a security clearance.

    But of course most people in government think that every tax dollar in their budget is absolutely, 100% essential and the entire world will come to an end if they lose any of it.

    1. The defense budget in 2003 was ~$400 billion. Bear in mind we were 2 years into Afghanistan and that included a massive scale-up for the Iraq invasion. Diplomats managed to travel to the countries they needed to travel to without issue. The defense budget today is $860 billion. So, yeah. I’d say that 3% cut probably shouldn’t be catastrophic.

    2. In the private sector, economic downturns are healthy for given market segments. An example was Dallas TX in 1986 after overbuilding the office market 200% it all came to a grinding halt. Many of the less qualified and fly by night subs and GC who rode the boom’s coattails left town, leaving just enough work for those of us who were qualified to get by. Sadly this rare and somewhat absurd sequester will never have the same effect. There is much too much fluff in every federal budget and program.

  8. shouldn’t the gnomes add a fourth step in which they reinvest some of their profits so as to expand their underwear-collection operation?

    Nonsense. They should launch an expensive ad campaign featuring a cute underpants puppet to convince the “investing” public they are a real company, and cash out via an IPO.

  9. How much more jet fuel do they want these people burning? Is the globe not hot enough for them already?

  10. Why should we give a damn whether or not Chuckie can visit Afghanistan in person? What does the Times think he does over there? It’s not like he’s an ace general in the art of counterinsurgency. Chances are that his entire contribution to the military effort consists of looking out a helicopter window and making a frowny face.

    1. Every time he goes over there, it is most likely a huge distraction to the war effort for the command structure. So his going there in and of itself likely makes the situation worse.

  11. So, wait a minute: government officials actually have to stop and think about the money they’re spending on travel? THE HORROR!

  12. I’d like to see a study comparing how and how often organization of various types (e.g. governmental, commercial, and non-profit) cut their budgets. I suspect you would find budget-cutting to be common outside government, and they would do it differently, e.g. less visibly to their customers, with less “Washington Monument syndrome”:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/W…..t_Syndrome

  13. It’s the end of the world and you mean ol libertarians just don’t care!

    End. Of. The. World.

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