The Center for Regional Analysis at George Mason University said 14 percent of the federal work force -- about 277,000 -- could be pink-slipped during the next 12 months if Congress fails to act by Jan. 1 and triggers about $1.2 trillion in spending cuts for the next decade, CNNMoney reported Friday.
The cuts could furlough about 48,000 federal workers in civilian defense jobs and 229,000 from federal jobs. No one knows where the cuts would be made because programs that could be affected haven't been identified.
Jobs could be eliminated from food inspections, health institutes, national parks and possibly air traffic control towers staffed by Federal Aviation Administration, Stephen Fuller, director of the Center for Regional Analysis, told CNNMoney as he outlined a worst-case scenario.
"What that means is some airports won't be able to land as many planes, because FAA controllers won't be in the towers," Fuller said. "FBI agents won't be on the ground investigating and meat inspectors won't be inspecting."
The Office of Management and Budget, which released figures on how much is slated to be axed from each agency but hasn't identified the programs, declined comment, CNNMoney said.
The Congressional Budget Office said if the fiscal cliff isn't averted, job losses in the private sector could occur as well.
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