KANSAS CITY, Mo. - The top federal law enforcement officials in Kansas City joined today for an unprecedented news conference to draw attention to what they said are damaging and potentially dangerous budget cuts brought about by the so-called sequester.
"Sequestration is not some fancy word from Washington DC, but is in fact something that is going to adversely affect public safety," Barry Grissom, US Attorney for the District of Kansas, said.
"I call sequestration ‘crime-fighting kryptonite' because that's exactly what it is," Tammy Dickinson, the US Attorney for the District of Western Missouri, said. "It is keeping us from doing all the wonderful thing that the community needs us to do, wants us to do, and has the duty to expect."
So far, budget cuts stemming from the federal sequester have stripped the Department of Justice of $1.6 billion of its budget for 2013. An additional $2.2 billion could be cut in fiscal year 2014 if Congress does not act before the end of September.
In real terms, the US Attorneys explained, that means 2,900 staff lost nationwide, including FBI and DEA agents, along with federal prosecutors and officers and staff with the bureau of prisons.
In the Western District of Missouri, the US Attorney's office is currently holding open 13 positions, including four assistant US attorneys. Those vacancies represent fully 10 percent of the office's staff, and in Kansas, ten percent of positions remain unfilled as well. There, federal courts have largely shut on Thursday of each week, thanks to the cuts.
"Criminals don't understand sequestration, so we're not closed on Fridays," Dickinson said. "But it will have, and it has had, a direct impact of slowing down the process of getting the cases thru the court."
So far, local justice department offices and branches have avoided sending out furlough notices, or cutting back on local-federal partnerships like the KC No Violence Alliance. But if the cuts continue, both attorneys said they would have to consider cut backs in every area to make ends meet.
"Which violent offender do you want us to leave on the street? Which child predator do you want us to leave on the playgrounds? Which terrorist lead do you not want us to investigate, and which fraudster do you want us to leave unchecked?" Dickinson said rhetorically during her remarks.
The two attorneys, who rarely engage on political issues, said they had asked for permission from top Justice officials to comment on the sequester, believing that by appealing to the public before Congress goes home for its August recess, regular constituents might in turn lean on their elected officials to get a deal done.
The need for such a deal, they said, is urgent.
"We're trying to prevent us having to be on life support," Dickinson said, "Because if we go on life support, there's no coming back."