Pentagon Wants War Funding After Wars End

The Pentagon wants to continue receiving special war funding well into peacetime.


The Pentagon wants to continue receiving special war funding well into peacetime.

Stars and Stripes (“Pentagon: We need war funding after the wars are over“):

 The U.S. military will need war funding for years to come, despite the fact that most troops will be out of Afghanistan by the end of this year, service officials told lawmakers Thursday.

Since Sept. 11, 2001, the Pentagon has received $1.5 trillion for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as other special operational activities like disaster relief and evacuation efforts. Those “overseas contingency operations” funds come on top of the DOD base budgets, which are supposed to be used to fund procurement, training, maintenance, and other initiatives that the Pentagon undertakes in peacetime. The enacted base budget for fiscal 2014 was $496 billion, and DOD received $85 billion for OCO.

But the military has also been using OCO to train troops, refurbish and modernize its equipment, maintain bases and force presence outside of Afghanistan, and do other activities not directly related to the war effort. Pentagon leaders want that extra money to continue flowing in an era when Congress has put caps on the base budget. A final OCO request has not yet been made for fiscal 2015, but in budget documents, DOD listed $79 billion as a “placeholders” figure.

“Any transition from OCO to base at the current base topline or, worse, under sequester laws, would drive all of our bases down, and our limited budget will pressurize our already difficult decisions as we work to balance our force structure, modernization and readiness. Without additional supplemental funding, I’m concerned that all three of these areas will suffer,” Vice Adm. Joseph Mulloy, deputy chief of naval operations for integration of capabilities and resources, told members of the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Readiness on Thursday.

Representatives of the other three services echoed those concerns. Lt. Gen. James Huggins, Army Deputy Chief of Staff for Operations, said his service will need OCO funds for another two to three years to reset the force and prepare for future missions. Lt. Gen. Glenn Walters, the Marine Corps’ deputy commandant for programs and resources, told the subcommittee that the Marines will need OCO money for “several years.”

Lt. Gen. Burton Field, Air Force deputy chief of staff for operations, plans and requirements, said air bases in the Middle East which are funded through OCO need to continue to be funded regardless of the situation in Afghanistan due to ongoing threats in the region.

All four warned that programs in the base budget will also suffer if they don’t have OCO money for fiscal 2015 by the beginning of October, because they will have to take money out of the base budget to pay for operations in Afghanistan through the end of the year.

 While the story is getting some buzz because of the cute headline, the Pentagon previewed this position more than a month ago. As I noted in my 23 February piece for Defense One, “The Pentagon Is Picking an Unnecessary Fight With Congress,”

The most brazen move was proposing spending that exceeds the Budget Control Act of 2011 ceiling by $115 billion over the next five years  by the device of an off-the-books ”Opportunity, Growth and Security Initiative” fund to promote ”readiness.”  

Hagel, in a Pentagon speech on Monday, insisted that sequestration levels amounted to “irresponsible cuts” that would “compromise our national security for both the short- and long-term.” While acknowledging that they remain “the law of the land,” the secretary insisted that the only way to implement them “is to sharply reduce spending on readiness and modernization, which would almost certainly result in a hollow force—one that isn’t ready or capable of fulfilling assigned positions.” Hagel terms the administration proposal as “more reasonable and far more responsible” than the current approach.

The “Opportunity, Growth and Security Initiative” is just a different name for OCO. Both are money above and beyond the normal Pentagon budget that essentially reside off the books. To the extent Congress actually believes the sequestration cuts are necessary and that the resultant cuts in defense spending are an acceptable strategic risk, then they can simply refuse to fund this additional spending. To the extent either of those isn’t the case, then the off-books slush fund provides a way around current law.

“So this is an uncapped funding stream that exists for DOD, and both the administration and Congress have been more than willing to use it to soften the impact of sequestration,” Todd Harrison, a military budget expert at the independent Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, said during a conference call earlier this month. “I think that this is a pretty dangerous situation for DOD to be in with being so heavily dependent on the OCO funding … because that funding stream could disappear quickly.”

Rep. Rob Wittman, R-Va., the chairman of the subcommittee, said he wants OCO funding to continue in the years ahead.

“Some would characterize OCO as unnecessary after 2014. However, the fact of the matter is that the rapidly broadening scope of challenges now facing our military has led the Department to become increasingly dependent on OCO to support enduring activities — activities beyond Afghanistan’s borders that must continue after combat operations have ended. OCO funds a multitude of enduring high-priority activities like building partner capacity, providing humanitarian assistance, conducting training exercises, and performing intelligence functions,” he said. “Until we are able to [move those funds to the base budget], we have a responsibility to provide the necessary OCO resources to allow our troops to do the job we have asked them to do.”

This is, of course, political cowardice and no way to run a railroad. But, alas, that’s hardly anything new.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. john personna says:

    There is an interesting timeline here, with everyone’s estimates of war costs, through time:

    A Guide to Estimates of the Cost of the Iraq War

    Yale University Professor William D. Nordhaus was the first to crack a trillion, in 2002. It took years for official numbers to catch up. Stiglitz’ estimate of two trillion in 2006 also got little traction.

    But of course … official numbers remained “lowball” to say the least.

    [we can probably presume that official numbers today are “lowball” for what the pentagon really plans to spend]

  2. C. Clavin says:

    Don’t hate the player…hate the game.

  3. Franklin says:

    @john personna: And none of those include the long-term costs (*cough* veterans *cough*).

    War is expensive. Please make a note of it.

  4. Al says:

    Sure, James. Next you’re going to tell me that the Navy is going to continue to heavily invest in obsolete ships like the Ford class because that’s what its admirals wanted to command when they were lieutenants or that the Air Force is going to kill the A-10 and replace it with a some kind of stealth fighter because that’s all its generals want to fly.

    Because that would be crazy.

  5. Jim M says:

    Push the military back to Pre Gulf War2 levels ie 300 billion a year..Two war are over..Make due with smaller forces..

  6. DrDaveT says:

    OCO funds a multitude of enduring high-priority activities like building partner capacity, providing humanitarian assistance, conducting training exercises, and performing intelligence functions,” he said.

    With the possible exception of humanitarian assistance, all of those are known operational activities of foreseeable magnitude, and should all be funded by explicit appropriation of O&M (Operations and Maintenance) and MILPERS (uniformed personnel) funds. Not only is it the right way to run a railroad, it’s also the only way that will force the services to recognize the opportunity costs of their activities.

    Or, to put it another way — if you can’t afford to build partner capacity or perform intelligence functions with your budgeted funds, you need to either decide to do without, or find something else to get rid of that will free up enough money.

  7. DrDaveT says:

    Republicans don’t want to give poor people money because they might spend it on porn and liquor. Why doesn’t this same argument apply when DoD does the equivalent of spending billions (soon to be trillions) on the military equivalent of porn and liquor, over and over again?