Long lines at U.S. customs after sequester: official

Lines at security at Chicago's O'Hare airport (AFP PHOTO/ MIRA OBERMAN)

Lines at security at Chicago's O'Hare airport (AFP PHOTO/ MIRA OBERMAN)


, Last Updated: 2:58 PM ET

Automatic spending cuts set to go into effect Friday could lead to five-hour long waits at airport customs for passengers entering the United States, the White House said.

Officials say that virtually every aspect of life could be affected by the cuts, which will hit unless bitterly divided lawmakers manage to strike a last-minute deal.

"Funding and staffing reductions would increase wait times at airports, weaken security between land ports of entry... and slow screening and entry for those traveling into the United States," said a state-by-state report issued by President Barack Obama's administration.

"At the major gateway airports, average wait times could increase by 30-50 percent. At the nation's busiest airports, like Newark, JFK (John F. Kennedy Airport in New York), LAX (Los Angeles International Airport) and Chicago O'Hare, peak wait times could grow to over four hours or more."

Airport security checks could also take longer, since workers could face temporary reductions in their numbers, the report said.

The Transportation Security Administration "would need to initiate a hiring freeze for all transportation security officer positions in March, eliminate overtime and furlough its 50,000 officers for up to seven days," the report said.

Meanwhile, the Federal Aviation Administration faces cuts of some $600 million, which means that a majority of its nearly 47,000 employees, including air traffic controllers and technicians, face temporary layoffs.

Those staffing cuts would require "a reduction in air traffic to a level that could be safely managed by the remaining staff, resulting in slower air traffic in major cities, as well as delays and disruptions across the country during the critical summer travel season," according to the report.

Sunday's dire warnings were the latest over the potentially serious impact of the $85 billion automatic "sequester" spending cuts, if the White House and Congress cannot strike an 11th hour agreement for modest deficit reductions.

Economists have warned that the cuts could trim economic growth by 0.5 percent, as government employees and contractors around the country would tighten their own spending in the face of slowed government disbursements and furloughs.

Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood has said that the Federal Aviation Administration would be forced to furlough workers for two to four days a month starting in April.