Remember those reports of suffering federal workers, starving in their cold, unheated apartments after being furloughed because cruel Republicans forced sequestration of funds on Uncle Sugar last year? OK, that's a bit over the top, but that's true, too, of a lot of reporting on sequestration and "government shutdowns." And so are federal agencies' media-ready "closed for business" signs on facilities that are actually self-supporting or privately run. As it turns out, according the Government Accountability Office (GAO), sequestration involved some annoying bookkeeping, and some workers were briefly sent home (many of those sent home for the government shutdown collected both back pay and jobless benefits), but forcing $80.5 billion in savings on federal agencies (the 2014 federal budget is $3.651 trillion, for comparison) wasn't exactly a catastrophe.
Of 23 federal agencies surveyed by the GAO:
19 agencies reported curtailing hiring; 16 reported rescoping or delaying contracts or grants for core mission activities; 19 reported reducing employee training; 20 reported reducing employee travel; and 7 reported furloughing more than 770,000 employees from 1 to 7 days.
Overall, as the report title captures it, "agencies reduced some services and investments, while taking certain actions to mitigate effects." When you're talking about business travel, grants, and new hiring, it's hard to argue that doom is in the works, when you think about it.
There was also a fair amount of accounting sleight of hand:
To implement sequestration, most agencies reported using funding flexibilities to balance mission protection and required sequestration reductions. These flexibilities included reprogramming funds within an account, transferring funds between accounts, and using unobligated balances from prior years.
Of the 770,000 furloughed workers, about 640,500 were civilian employees of the Department of Defense. Back pay for the sequester, separate from already approved back pay for the government shutdown, is pending.
One other result of sequestration? The Department of Justice filed 1,600 fewer civil and criminal cases. Given how that department has thrown its weight around over the years, that actually may be a net benefit.