The House Armed Services’ Committee is half an hour away from its highly-billed hearing on sequestration with Acting OMB Director Jeffrey Zients and Deputy Defense Secretary Ashton Carter. Chairman Buck McKeon (R-CA) isn’t confident that this exchange will yield new information, though, and The Will and the Wallet also has cautioned of the static noise likely to persist through November’s election.
A memo issued by Zients yesterday afternoon may appear to rise above the noise with an offer of new information, but closer inspection raises a few question marks. Zients uses variants of the verb “plan” on several occasions, for instance, yet it’s nowhere to be found in the memo’s two do-outs specific to sequester:
OMB will consult with you [the agencies] on such topics as the application to your agency's accounts and programs of the exemptions from sequestration contained in section 255 of BBEDCA [Balanced Budget and Emergency Deficit Control Act of 1985] and the applicable sequestration rules specified in section 256 of BBEDCA.
Sequestrable amounts can only be calculated once FY 2013 funding levels are known; therefore, shortly before any sequestration order is issued, OMB will collect information from agencies on sequestrable amounts and, where applicable, unobligated balances, and calculate the percentage reductions necessary to implement the sequestration. In the meantime, agencies should continue normal spending and operations since more than 5 months remain for Congress to act.
So is anything really new? Yes. OMB also released a second memo yesterday formally announcing that military personnel accounts will be exempt from sequester. That decision had not yet been made but was so widely assumed that many thought it was already official.
Beyond that update, we’ll have to wait and see what the hearing produces. Tempered expectations probably are in order, though, given the primacy of politics in this debate. In the meantime, for those really needing a sequester information fix, your Will + Wallet team took the time yesterday to dig out the exemptions list from Sections 255 and 256 of the BBEDCA (see pdf page 46).