Federal Public Defenders Office cuts three positions, enforces furloughs due to sequester

By Marshanna Hester

April 3, 2013 Updated Apr 3, 2013 at 10:24 PM CDT

PEORIA, Ill. -- The offices of two attorneys and one computer systems administrator are empty.

They were let go so the Central Illinois District of the Federal Public Defenders office could meet a 10 percent budget cut. The remaining staff will take 10 furlough days.

Chief Federal Public Defender Jonathan Hawley is disappointed in the federal government's actions.

"This is the 50th anniversary of the Supreme Court's decision Gideon vs. Wainwright, which guaranteed counsel to everyone accused of crime in this country," Hawley said. "This seems like an odd way to honor their decision in that case."

Hawley says his office represents 600 people a year. Those who need counsel won't see an immediate impact, but less staff will be taking on more work.

If there are additional federal cuts, that means more furloughs to pay for unexpected expenses.

"We have cases that may come in the door that require expensive experts, that may require lengthy trials with overnight stays, bringing witnesses in. We have no money allotted for any of that," said Hawley

Sequestration is taking a hold of air travel too.

The Central Illinois Regional Airport in Bloomington has sued the Federal Aviation Administration to keep its control tower open.

Meanwhile, Peoria airport officials are pleading their case to keep its tower open 24 hours day.

The FAA is considering reducing those hours, but not closing it. Director of Peoria Airports Gene Olson says it's still a problem.

"Its going to have an impact on snow removal operation, because we'll be out there in the middle of the night, keeping the field open for the cargo guys," he said. "We won't have air traffic control watching for traffic. We'll have to take on that responsibility ourselves."

Olson says FAA employees will have to take furlough days and overtime is also being eliminated for some.

That, in turn, means corporate flights will have to come in during normal business hours and longer repair time on navigational aids used to land in bad weather.

"The whole aviation system is going to degrade a little bit," Olson said. "No one is going to do anything unsafe, but things will take longer to get fixed and you'll see more delays and potentially missed or cancelled flights because of it."

And if Congress doesn't find a solution, sequestration could have an even bigger impact on these agencies in the future.