OMB director will testify at congressional hearing on effect of sequestration cuts

After badgering from House Armed Services Chairman Buck McKeon (R-Calif.), acting Office of Management and Budget (OMB) Director Jeffrey Zients has agreed to testify before his committee on the $500 billion in looming defense cuts, McKeon said Monday.

Zients will testify along with a senior Pentagon official on August 1, an aide to McKeon said. The hearing will occur two weeks after members of the defense industry will appear in a hearing scheduled July 18 to talk about the impact of sequestration cuts on U.S. companies, the aide said.

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The dual hearings on sequestration come as Republicans are making a concerted effort to attract public attention to the defense cuts and press the Obama administration to explain what impact the cuts would have. At the same time, defense industry leaders are warning about layoffs from the cuts and threatening to send out mass layoff notices just days before the November election.

McKeon and other Republicans have hammered the Obama administration for not doling out details about sequestration, the $500 billion in automatic cuts to both defense and non-defense spending set to hit on January 2.

The Pentagon has said it’s not yet begun planning for sequestration under instructions from OMB, and OMB officials have called on Congress to reverse the sequestration cuts with alternate deficit reduction.

But Congress has pushed back against the apparent lack of preparation, and the Senate passed legislation last month that would require reports from the Pentagon, OMB and the White House on the impact of sequestration.

McKeon has pressed to get Zients to testify before his committee, writing a letter last month to the director and formally requesting his presence before the committee.

Prior to sending the letter, McKeon said he was “disappointed” when Zients wouldn’t commit to testifying during a phone conversation the two had.

“It is appropriate to provide information to members of Congress, industry and the public about the administration's interpretation of the law and how sequestration would be implemented,” McKeon wrote in the June letter to Zients.

OMB spokesman Kenneth Baer said in response to the letter that Zients was reviewing the invitation. He could not be immediately reached Monday to confirm Zients was appearing at the hearing.

On the other side of the Capitol, a group of seven senators led by Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) have asked 15 of the biggest contractors to explain how sequestration would affect them. In a letter to the companies, the senators asked for responses to numerous questions, including how many layoff notices the companies might send out due to sequestration.

Most Democrats and Republicans, as well as the Obama administration, want the $1 trillion in sequestration cuts to be reversed, but the two parties disagree on how the alternate deficit reduction to replace the cuts should be attained.

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