Palmer was set to meet with his managers yesterday to continue contingency planning for March 1 and beyond. The next big date on the calendar is March 27, when Congress will once again have to reach agreement on the debt limit and pass a continuing budget resolution.
"The budget is a little bit of a moving target, but Congress has to do something regardless," he said. "Ideally, they should come up with a deal that finishes this fiscal year."
'It's Going to Be Much Slower'
Southern District Executive Edward Friedland said guidance should come from the Administrative Office, perhaps as soon as today. In the meantime, he is hoping to shift non-salary monies to salaries to avoid furloughs.
But if there is no change from current projections, he said, employees would have to take 12 days of furloughs before Oct. 1.
"It certainly is going to result in a cut in services if we have to go to furloughs," he said. "It's going to be much slower at the courthouse."
If the news is worse, Friedland said, "there's talk of suspending civil jury trials in September, because we'd have no money to pay the jurors."
The probation departments and pretrial services have been especially hard hit the last few years, with staff reductions coming through attrition and early retirements and buyouts. As of March 2012, the number of probation officers in Brooklyn had already declined to 108 from 119 four years ago. In Manhattan, the number dropped to 95 from 112. Support staff in both districts shrunk to mid-30s from the mid-40s.
Pretrial services reports are critical for judges in making decisions on bail and probation officers are key to reducing recidivism. Unannounced searches by probation officers can uncover guns and ammunition, child pornography and, often, drugs.
"One thing you could do is furlough administrative staff, but if that happened, you'd have to pull your officers off of their regular duties because administrative tasks have to be done," Preska said. "You would see fewer drug tests, less time on presentence reports, longer times for sentencing."
But Preska also said that part of the sequester is for "law enforcement funds," which include everything from drug treatment, mental health evaluations and sex offender treatment to "something as simple as gas for the cars when agents go out to do searches."
"We'll have people walking around who need treatmentparticularly at a time when we are focusing on the relationship between mental health and firearms," she said. "The public safety will really be at risk."