Keeley: Sequestration Surprise Coming Election Eve

Posted July 17, 2012 at 1:27pm

As the discussion on sequestration heats up, the fact remains that the window is closing for Congress to take action to avert across-the-board defense industry layoffs. With observers predicting that Congress has only four weeks of real business left before the fall election season, time is simply running out for this blow to the economy to be averted.

Defense companies doing business with the government will, by federal law, soon begin to distribute hundreds of thousands of layoff notices — which will land on desks and production lines just before the November elections. In some states, because of their unique laws, it could come even sooner.

Yes, the actual layoffs won’t take place until Jan. 2, but the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act dictates that firms must notify employees 60 days in advance of potential layoffs. Wind the clock back 60 days and its Nov. 2 — just four days before Americans go to the polls.

The continued uncertainty spurred by the lack of action by Congress is affecting real people right now. Contingency plans are in place at defense companies, and in some cases, the dismissal notices are printed. Companies have to prepare plants for closing, and workers are trying to figure out how they are going to keep roofs over their heads and get food on the table for their families.

For some in Congress, this is election-year politics and political brinkmanship. For hardworking Americans and companies vital to our economic and national security, this is a looming disaster.

The failure of Congress to rationally negotiate, cooperate and act is pushing the defense industry, American workers and the nation into a man-made economic crisis. Unless Congress moves decisively — by repealing sequestration or devising alternative budget measures, we’re out of options.

More than 1 million skilled, educated individuals will be unemployed and investment in industry and new product research will collapse or be put on indefinite hold — with ramifications for decades to come.

Recently, Kenneth Baer, spokesman for the White House Office of Management and Budget, said in a published letter: “While OMB has not yet engaged agencies in planning, our staff is conducting the analysis needed to move forward if necessary. … Should it get to the point where it appears that Congress will not do its job and the sequester may take effect, OMB, DOD, and the entire Administration will be prepared.”

Unfortunately, no amount of planning can magically render sequestration into anything but a job-killing cut in defense investment.

Lawmakers have created a monster and burrowed their heads in the sand as it grew too big for its shackles. They have ignored cohesive pleas for action from industry, workers and communities, and they continue to paint sequestration as an irrational move that will not happen.

The stark truth is that their political maneuvering is affecting real people and having real consequences — consequences that could haunt lawmakers on Election Day because, along with their glossy campaign literature, workers will be receiving layoff notices in their mailboxes just hours before they cast their ballots.

Gregory P. Keeley is vice president for defense, intelligence and homeland security policy at TechAmerica.