Travelers at US airports are already being greeted with longer lines and delays due to government spending cuts launched last week, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said Monday.
Napolitano warned that the lines for customs and security clearance could double as the spending cuts, called the sequester, begin to hit government departments after they came into effect on Friday.
"We are already seeing the effects at some of the ports, the big airports, for example. Some of them had very long lines this weekend," she said, mentioning the Chicago's O'Hare International Airport and Los Angeles International Airport.
"The New York airports got through okay, but that's going to be temporary. We will see these effects cascade over the next week," due to the sequester's impact on the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) and airport customs enforcement, she said.
Homeland Security would start on Monday to send out notices of temporary furloughs, or unpaid leave, to its employees that will begin in April, she said at an event hosted by Politico magazine.
Meanwhile TSA has frozen hiring and is "basically" eliminating overtime work, she said.
Asked how long could lines and waits get, she answered: "I would say 150 to 200 percent as long as we would normally expect."
"If you are travelling, get to the airport earlier than you otherwise would. There is only so much we can do with personnel.
"And please don't yell at the customs officers or the TSA officers. They are not responsible for sequester."
On Friday President Barack Obama implemented the sequester, $85-billion in mandatory cutbacks to government spending over the next seven months, after failing to get Congress to agree on a less severe approach to reducing the federal deficit.
Aside from delays in security and customs, the Federal Aviation Administration said it will be forced to close control towers at small airports and reduce staffing of air traffic controllers at airports around the country because of the spending reductions.