Homeland Security chief warns of long TSA lines from sequester

Lines at the airport will get much longer because of sequestration, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said Monday. 

Napolitano said the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) will have to furlough workers because of the automatic spending cuts set to hit the government on March 1, leading to longer waits to get through security. 

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Napolitano said the result could be airport security wait times that last up to four hours at high-volume airports, both in the U.S. and for flights to the United States from foreign countries. 

"At the major international airports, we will be limited in accepting new international flights, and average wait times to clear customs will increase by as much as 50 percent, and at our busiest airports, like Newark and JFK, LAX and O'Hare, peak wait times which can reach over two hours could easily grow to four hours or more," Napolitano said. 

"Such delays will cause thousands of missed passenger connections daily, with economic consequences at both the local and the national levels," she continued. 

Napolitano said airline passenges would have to change their normal travel behavior to adapt to the post-sequester airport security environment. 

"If you're traveling by air, you're going to have to start getting to the airport earlier," she said. "And if you're trying to make a connecting flight, you're gonna have to make your arrangements to give you greater time with which to do that."

Napolitano denied the Obama administration was exaggerating the consequences of allowing the across-the-board sequestration cuts to happen. 

"I'm not here to scare people," she said. "I'm here to inform, and also to let people begin to plan, because they're going to see these impacts in their daily lives. And they're gonna have to adjust and make their arrangements accordingly."

However, in warning about broader security issues like border control, Napolitano warned " I don't think we can maintain the same level of security at all places around the country with sequester as without sequester."

Republican officials like Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal have accused the Obama administration of using "scare tactics" to try to win the budget fight with the congressional GOP.

"My advice to the [president is] stop the campaigning, stop sending out your cabinet secretaries to scare the American people,” Jindal said Sunday on “Meet the Press.”

As part of the effort to force more than $1 trillion in spending cuts over the next 10 years, the sequestration law would require $85 billion in reductions to 2013 spending if they are implemented after March 1.

The Obama administration has told all federal agencies to be prepared to cut about 8 percent of their overall budgets for 2013.

Democrats in Congress have argued that the sequestration cuts would result in the TSA having to furlough airport security screeners for at least seven days this year.

-This story was updated at 4:12 p.m.