The United States went ahead with major spending cuts earlier this year, slicing around $85 billion off the federal budget. But while most government offices remain afloat, a fax machine on the fritz may be too costly for the Pentagon to fix.
Investigative journalists working for the website Muckrock.com have identified one side-effect of the sequester that is only now starting to cause concerns. A facsimile machine at Defense Department headquarters has reportedly been out of commission for almost three weeks now and is hindering the ability for reporters to file Freedom of Information Act requests with the military.
“Starting two weeks ago, requests faxed to the Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD) started coming back as undeliverable. After several subsequent attempts and troubleshooting on our end, MuckRock reached out to the OSD. Sure enough, their fax machine is down,” journalist Shawn Musgrave wrote on the site last week.
What’s more, though, is that Musgrave reported that the fax machine in question — the only one at the Pentagon handling FOIA requests, according to him — may remain out-of-service for another month, if not more.
When Musgrave pressed the Pentagon to deliver an estimated date when the machine might be back up and running, Defense Department officials said that, should no replacement be immediately available, the matter must wait until the start of the new fiscal year.
“We would that it is back up sometime in October, but could extend into the beginning of November,” Aaron Graves of the OSD replied to Muckrock.
“It bears repeating,” Musgrave after that exchange. “The office that oversees the most powerful military in history (not to mention the best-funded) is unable to project when its single fax machine will once again be operational.”
Meanwhile, the US military is budgeted to spend over one trillion dollars in FY2012, and its in-progress F-35 fighter jet program — the most expensive weapons system ever ordered — could come at a price-tag that exceeds even that when all is said and done.
Of course, that isn’t to say that a pesky fax problem isn’t the only item at hand causing concerns in Washington. A study released last week by Goldman Sachs suggested that as many as 100,000 federal jobs could disappear due to budget cuts during the next year.
"[M]any federal agencies have employed temporary strategies to adjust to sequestration this year, such as employee furloughs and deferral of maintenance and training, with the hope that sequestration would ultimately be reversed,” the report reads in part. “If sequestration continues, more permanent adjustments will become necessary and agencies may be more willing to undertake them if Congress declines once again to reverse the cuts."
In the meantime, journalists might want to go about sending their FOIA requests the old fashioned way, or else resort to what Musgrave called “a clunky online request portal that doesn't play nice with other systems.”
And if that doesn’t work, someone might want to tell the Pentagon that the Best Buy down the road can have a brand-new Panasonic laser fax/copier in stock within days for only around $150.