(Washington, D.C.) – Today, groups from the right and left critiqued the Obama Administration’s Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) budget request as out of step with fiscal responsibility. The OCO number is lower than the placeholder estimate, a victory for advocates of reducing wasteful spending at the Pentagon. However, analysts expressed concern as to why the request is well above what is needed for the limited number of troops that will remain in Afghanistan.
Many defense watchers consider the OCO account to be a slush fund used to pad the Pentagon’s budget and avoid spending caps. This past February, 36 organizations sent an open letter to House and Senate appropriators urging them to close the account. And in May, 169 groups sent a letter to House members calling for an end to the OCO slush fund.
In addition, there are questions as to why the President’s proposed “Counterterrorism Partnership Fund” and “European Reassurance Initiative” are included in the OCO budget when both should be funded from the Pentagon’s almost $500 base budget.
Pete Sepp, Executive Vice President, National Taxpayers Union said:
“So now Washington's $79 billion placeholder is a $60 billion budget request -- the names and numbers have moved in a somewhat better direction, but taxpayers are still left with many questions about OCO's final destination. What's truly a contingency and what's just a camouflaged giveaway? How big will OCO be when it winds up back at the President's desk? Who will benefit from this process -- the nation's service people and the taxpayers they defend, or the special interests and the fiscal turf they protect? All Americans will be watching and waiting for the answers.”
Ryan Alexander, President, Taxpayers for Common Sense said:
“It is outrageous that the Administration continues to use the Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) account to circumvent the agreed upon caps placed on the Pentagon budget. The Pentagon’s base budget is nearly a half trillion dollars, that should be plenty to meet all its obligations. But rather than managing its resources by eliminating wasteful spending, the Pentagon has shifted items that should be in the base budget into OCO. Because OCO funds are not subject to spending caps, this sleight-of-hand creates an illusion that the Pentagon is complying with the modest limits Congress and the Administration agreed to as recently as December. With a half a trillion dollar deficit and a debt of more than $17.5 trillion, taxpayers can’t afford more of these budgetary parlor tricks.”
William Hartung, Director, Arms & Security Project, Center for International Policy said:
“The Obama administration's proposal to spend $60 billion on the Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) account clearly contradicts Secretary of Defense Hagel's promise that this year's request would be "substantially smaller." U.S. troop strength in Afghanistan is being cut by nearly three-quarters, while the war budget is only going down about one-third. This leaves plenty of room for the irresponsible practice of using the OCO account as a slush fund to pay for pet projects that have nothing to do with the war in Afghanistan. Congress should pare back the war budget to include only what it costs to safely wind down the war and bring home our troops. And it should carefully scrutinize the president's proposed Counterterrorism Partnership Fund, which appears to be an open-ended instrument for involving the United States in new conflicts without adequate Congressional input.”