Federal agencies are bracing for millions of dollars in cutbacks and job losses as the effects of sequestration begin sinking in this week.

In Hawaii, the economic impact could cut deep.

But at least one state agency may be breathing a sigh of relief for now. Sequestration has given the State Historic Preservation Division a reprieve from a long-awaited federal review.

SHPD, which is battling to retain its federal certification and funding, was supposed to face its day of reckoning this week.

Officials from the National Park Service were set to visit Hawaii on Monday and conduct a week-long review of whether the state agency had fulfilled a litany of requirements outlined in a two-year federal improvement plan.

SHPD is charged with protecting Hawaii’s cultural and historic resources, but has struggled with a long history of staffing shortages, heavy permit backlogs and outdated record keeping. A final decision on whether SHPD retains its federal certification was set for the end of the week.

But shortly before federal officials from Washington D.C. were to board planes for Hawaii, the trip was cancelled.

Due to sequestration, the director of the park service cancelled all “non-critical” travel on Thursday night, according to emails forwarded to Civil Beat by a former SHPD employee.

Only travel related to emergencies, or life, health and safety is permitted, according to an email sent to local historians and archeologists by Melia Lane-Kamahele, a NPS official based in Hawaii.

It may now be weeks before a final decision on SHPD is made.

“We are currently hoping to shift the review perhaps into late April, and will await further guidance from Washington and the next steps with sequestration, the continuing resolution situation and the debt ceiling discussions,” wrote Lane-Kamahele.

Stephanie Toothman, a director for the park service, sent an email Friday morning to SHPD Director Pua Aiu and William Aila, director of the Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources, which oversees SHPD, informing them of the delay. Toothman said she hoped to set up a video or teleconference with staff next week to update them on the status of the review.

“I regret to inform you that, due to the travel restrictions that the National Park Service has put in place as part of it’s sequestration response, I have to postpone our planned visit next week to conduct the Corrective Action Plan review,” she wrote. “We appreciate your staff has been working very hard to prepare for our visit.”

If NPS officials decide that the state agency hasn’t made all the improvements, SHPD will lose its certification, potentially delaying millions of dollars in projects in Hawaii that receive federal funding or need federal permits.

Aila told Civil Beat that he was working with park service officials to come up with a contingency plan for completing the review.

SHPD has filed two reports with the NPS detailing its progress in meeting the federal requirements since the September deadline officially passed last year.

The first self-assessment, filed by SHPD in October, concluded that the division had met all requirements.

However, Toothman sent Aila a letter in November, calling the report disappointing. She wrote that NPS remained concerned about the program’s long-term sustainability. NPS required SHPD to file a new report and conduct a financial audit.

SHPD filed a new report in February that wasn’t as complimentary. The report details progress, but indicates that the agency had not met its hiring requirements and is still struggling with a backlog of paperwork and reports.

Aila said that hiring for some of the positions depends on funding from the Legislature.

“We didn’t have too much control over that, but I expect NPS to take that into account and react responsibly and respectfully,” he said.

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