Back in my teaching days, many years ago, one of the things I liked to ask the class to consider was this: Imagine a government agency with only two tasks: (1) building statues of Benedict Arnold and (2) providing life-saving medications to children. If this agency’s budget were cut, what would it do? The answer, of course, is that it would cut back on the medications for children. Why? Because that would be what was most likely to get the budget cuts restored. If they cut back on building statues of Benedict Arnold, people might ask why they were building statues of Benedict Arnold in the first place.
~ Thomas Sowell
As usual, Dr. Sowell perfectly describes bureaucratic incentives and public policy economics. And this isn't isolated to the federal government either, as we see this same behavior exhibited at the state level. Whenever there's talk of cutting state or local budgets, politicians seemingly always cut the most customer-facing aspects first -- DMV, Dept of Labor, etc... Cause the taxpayers the most pain and they'll relent in their calls for less spending.
More troubling in my mind is that any private sector company would immediately have discretion to what departments or programs would see the cuts and which ones would be spared. In government, such discretion must be noted in the law (it wasn't), and on top of that, politicians actively work to avoid such discretion because it serves their political ends, the American people be damned. The Senate recently drafted a bill which would transfer their Constitutional control over the purse strings and give that authority to President Obama until the end of this fiscal year, which would allow him discretion on how to implement the sequester cuts. President Obama has already said he would veto such a bill. Normally, no President would turn down more power, but in this case neither side wants responsibility and both sides want to criticize the other for whatever spending reductions do take place.
Putting politics before the American people -- that's the government way!