The first day of federal sequestration Friday did not disrupt travel at Maui County airports or close Haleakala National Park, where travelers and visitors saw what one official called "business as usual."
After failing to reach an agreement with Congress to avoid the big, across-the-board cuts, President Barack Obama ordered federal agencies to chop $85 billion in spending through the end of September.
The cuts are a government slowdown, not a shutdown. So, abrupt disruptions of services were not anticipated. Officials nevertheless braced themselves for what will unfold in the weeks and months ahead.
Li Wenhao of Shandong Province, China, leaps for a photo taken by Shi Linlin on Thursday morning at the summit of Haleakala. Also taking part in the photo opportunity was Yang Nan. The Chinese visitors said it was their second time to Maui. They said they planned to spread the word back home that Maui and Hawaii are “amazing” places to visit.
The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo
Maui District Airports Manager Marvin Moniz said that it was "business as usual" at Kahului Airport on Friday. The Maui District also has airports at Hana and Kapalua on Maui, Hoolehua and Kalaupapa on Molokai and on Lanai.
Federal Aviation Administration air traffic controllers remained on the job, maintaining the shepherding of aircraft in and out of Kahului Airport, Moniz said.
"We had no delays today. No flight interruptions," he said.
Last month, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood told Congress that the majority of the FAA's 47,000 employees, including air traffic controllers, would be furloughed for approximately one day per pay period. And that was expected to result in a reduction of air traffic to a level that can be safely managed by remaining staff, he said. That would bringing delays and disruptions across the country during the critical summer travel season.
On Friday afternoon, Moniz said that he had just finished a conference call with Homeland Security officials who were continuing to discuss the impact of the federal cuts on Transportation Security Administration staffing at airport security checkpoints.
The lengths of lines of passengers waiting to go through security checkpoints were not unusual at Kahului Airport on Friday, he said.
It remained undecided if TSA would furlough personnel for a day a week, once a month or once in a pay period, Moniz said. The situation is expected to be clarified toward the third week of this month, when Congress' continuing appropriations resolution expires on March 27.
Moniz said he didn't expect to see changes, if any, to airport operations until then.
Haleakala National Park remained open to visitors Friday at both its summit and Kipahulu districts, said Matt Brown, the park's acting superintendent.
The federal sequestration will not result in park officials reducing visitor hours at any of its facilities or cutting back interpretative services, Brown said. And, approximately 100 full-time and temporary employees will not be furloughed.
However, the park has eight vacancies that will not be filled, he said. Those vacancies range from a couple of park ranger positions to a custodial worker and an employee who manages the park's wastewater system.
"We have some vacancies now," he said. And, "as vacancies become available, we're not filling those positions."
While park visitors are not likely to notice changes immediately, the cutbacks will be evident over time, Brown said.
"It's eroding our ability to adequately maintain our facilities," he said.
As an example, the park doesn't have a custodial staff person to clean facilities in Kipahulu, Brown said. So, trail maintenance crew members will need to be diverted temporarily to custodial duties. While they're doing that work, the crew won't be maintaining park trails.
The long-term consequence of sequestration "impacts our ability to maintain the park to a level that folks have rightfully grown accustomed to," he said. "We have a maintenance backlog. We struggle to maintain trail and park facilities. We've been making good progress on that . . . What this does for us is that we're going to be losing ground again."
Based on information provided leading up to Friday, Haleakala park officials were expecting a cut of approximately $260,000 through the end of September, Brown said. Final word had not come down as of Friday afternoon, but he said he expected the final amount of the reduction to be "very close" to that amount.
Unlike Haleakala, other national parks may not be able to stay open or continue current levels of service.
Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, who oversees national parks, refuges and other programs, told the Senate Appropriations Committee last month that "the public should be prepared for reduced hours and services" at the country's 398 national parks, 561 refuges and more than 250 public land units.
Impacts at parks could include reduced hours for visitor centers, shortened seasons and possibly the closure of camping, hiking and other recreational areas "when there is insufficient staff to ensure the protection of visitors, employees and resources," Salazar said.
The federal cutbacks would require the complete closure or program elimination at about 128 refuges, he said. And visitor programs at nearly all refuges would be discontinued.
Officials at the Kealia Pond National Wildlife Refuge in north Kihei could not be reached for comment late Friday.
Maui County spokesman Rod Antone said that officials expect cuts to federal money provided for social programs managed by the county, but the amount of those reductions had yet to be determined.
Hawaii is at the top of a list of 10 states expected to feel the pain of sequestration most as a percentage of the state's economy, according to Hawaii's congressional delegation.
Under a 2011 law, Friday's deadline triggered automatic cuts of $85 billion from a $3.6 trillion federal budget through September. It includes cutbacks of 8 percent at the Department of Defense and 5 percent to domestic spending.
* Brian Perry can be reached at email@example.com.