Feds cringe at possibility of more forced budget cuts

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(CNN) — The leadership of federal law enforcement agencies is bracing for some real pain/tough choices if forced budget cuts are implemented again next year.

The Obama administration’s ongoing standoff with Republicans over Obamacare and the budget means forced budget cuts from the so-called “sequestration” will be likely. The administration is pushing Congress to find a long-term solution that would restore some of the sequestered cuts.

Federal Bureau of Investigation Director Jim Comey, who took office earlier this month and is facing his first major investigation into the mass shooting at the Washington Navy Yard, spoke out last week about the potential impact to his agency.

He says he may have to furlough his 36,000 employees between 10 days and two weeks. Unless Congress restores funding as part of a resolution to pay for running the government, he says the FBI faces a cut of nearly $800 million in the next budget year.

Federal agencies, including the FBI, also warned of the impact of similar cuts last year, but managed to find funds to move to plug the fiscal hole. So why should Congress heed the warnings this year?

“I’m not playing a game, I’m not crying wolf, ” Comey said in a briefing with reporters.

His predecessor, Robert Mueller, did the equivalent of “looking through the couch cushions for extra money. Now, the couch has been turned upside down.”

The agency doesn’t have a new class of agents going into training at its academy in Quantico, Va., and has to forgo buying equipment. The FBI, Comey says, can’t endure another year without cutting into its salary budget.

“That cupboard is bare. I can’t avoid it this year,” Comey says.

The cuts apply to other agencies too, and they add to restrictions that raised concerns at the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives that a wave of retiring agents may not be replaced. ATF’s facility in Martinsburg, WV, that conducts gun tracing laid off 98 contractors earlier this year.

The Justice Department says it has a hiring freeze to save personnel costs and has cut back on travel, equipment and training, as well as contract costs.

Ellen Canale, a Justice spokeswoman, says, “Unless Congress adopts a balanced deficit reduction plan and stops the further reductions currently slated for Fiscal Year 2014, the department will have no choicebut to institute furloughs. Furloughs, on top of our current, hefty loss in personnel due to budget constraints, means our core mission to protect the American people, to safeguard vital programs and precious resources, and to hold criminals accountable will suffer.”

The Justice Department estimates its share of the sequestration cuts could go from $1.5 billion in 2013 to $2.1 billion in fiscal 2014.

The department says it is still looking at funding needs for fiscal year 2014 to determine its effect on employees. Since January 2011 through August 2013, the Justice Department has lost a net of approximately 3,500 staff department-wide due to budget constraints.

By CNN’s Evan Perez

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