House Budget Committee member Rep. Mick Mulvaney, R-S.C., listens to testimony from Budget Director Jack Lew, Feb. 15, 2011, on Capitol Hill.

House Budget Committee member Rep. Mick Mulvaney, R-S.C., listens to testimony from Budget Director Jack Lew, Feb. 15, 2011, on Capitol Hill. J. Scott Applewhite/AP

The Pentagon and Congress Must Stop Raiding the Afghan War Fund

New legislation just passed the House that prevents Congress and the Pentagon from using war funds to pay for things that have nothing to do with war. By William D. Hartung

Last week’s House action on the National Defense Authorization Act was largely an exercise in fantasy budgeting and pork barrel politics. Virtually all of the Pentagon’s major cost saving initiatives were rejected, and key issues like when to bring U.S. troops home from Afghanistan were not even brought up for debate. 

This otherwise dismal showing was partially redeemed by the House’s passage of an amendment that would take the first step towards ending the use of the war budget – formally known as the Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) account – to pay for items that have nothing to do with the war in Afghanistan. The amendment, co-sponsored by Reps. Mick Mulvaney, R-S.C., and Patrick Murphy, D-Fla., proposes using standards developed by the Office of Management and Budget to clarify which items can properly be included in the OCO budget.

This measure is long overdue. In recent years, the OCO budget has been saddled with tens of billions of dollars in expenditures that are unrelated to the war in Afghanistan or any other overseas contingency. Fiscal year 2014 is a good example. Even as troop levels in Afghanistan went down by 39 percent, the total OCO budget remained virtually unchanged. This was partly due to an excessive request from the administration, and partly due to billions in congressional add-ons.

Because the OCO account includes less detail than the Pentagon’s base budget, it’s hard to know exactly how much of the OCO funding authorized in the 2000s was unrelated to the Afghan conflict. But it is certainly in the tens of billions of dollars. Independent analyses by the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments and the Project on Government Oversight suggest that roughly $30 billion of the FY2014 OCO budget involved items that belonged in the Pentagon’s base budget.

The main fight over the war budget will come once the Obama administration puts forward a realistic number for that account later this year, after the administration and the new Afghan government agree on what kind of ongoing presence the United States will have there.

In addition to the challenge of keeping inappropriate expenditures out of the OCO account, there is the question of how long it should continue. Several U.S. military leaders have suggested that the fund should continue for an additional 3 to 4 years, continuing even after  the number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan drops to zero .. 

The stated rationales for keeping a war fund even after there is no war to fund is that the U.S. military needs money to bring troops and equipment home, as well as to “reset the force” by replacing or refurbishing equipment damaged or lost in the war. Neither of these arguments hold up to scrutiny.

Just as the OCO budget during the war included money to move personnel and equipment to Afghanistan as needed, there have already been some funds spent on bringing them home. Future allocations will need to supplement these amounts, but doing so should not cost tens of billions of dollars. For example, some equipment will be left for Afghan forces or destroyed in place, obviating the need to transport it back to the United States. All of this suggests the possibility of devising a smaller, more tightly crafted OCO budget for FY2015, with funds for future years premised on what U.S. presence remains.. But if once war ends, the OCO fund should end as well.

The call for large amounts of funding for reset also rests on shaky ground. As a 2011 study by the Stimson Center has shown, the $1 trillion in procurement funding contained in the Pentagon budget in the decade after 2001 was more than ample to provide the Army with a full inventory of new and/or upgraded vehicles, over and above any equipment that may have been lost in Afghanistan.  Similar trends hold for the Air Force, Navy and Marines.  Given this reality, Congress should carefully scrutinize any funding justified on the grounds of “resetting the force.”

In the name of budget discipline and sound planning, the use of the OCO account as an all-purpose slush fund must end.

William D. Hartung is the director of the Arms and Security Project at the Center for International Policy.

X
This website uses cookies to enhance user experience and to analyze performance and traffic on our website. We also share information about your use of our site with our social media, advertising and analytics partners. Learn More / Do Not Sell My Personal Information
Accept Cookies
X
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Do Not Sell My Personal Information

When you visit our website, we store cookies on your browser to collect information. The information collected might relate to you, your preferences or your device, and is mostly used to make the site work as you expect it to and to provide a more personalized web experience. However, you can choose not to allow certain types of cookies, which may impact your experience of the site and the services we are able to offer. Click on the different category headings to find out more and change our default settings according to your preference. You cannot opt-out of our First Party Strictly Necessary Cookies as they are deployed in order to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting the cookie banner and remembering your settings, to log into your account, to redirect you when you log out, etc.). For more information about the First and Third Party Cookies used please follow this link.

Allow All Cookies

Manage Consent Preferences

Strictly Necessary Cookies - Always Active

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data, Targeting & Social Media Cookies

Under the California Consumer Privacy Act, you have the right to opt-out of the sale of your personal information to third parties. These cookies collect information for analytics and to personalize your experience with targeted ads. You may exercise your right to opt out of the sale of personal information by using this toggle switch. If you opt out we will not be able to offer you personalised ads and will not hand over your personal information to any third parties. Additionally, you may contact our legal department for further clarification about your rights as a California consumer by using this Exercise My Rights link

If you have enabled privacy controls on your browser (such as a plugin), we have to take that as a valid request to opt-out. Therefore we would not be able to track your activity through the web. This may affect our ability to personalize ads according to your preferences.

Targeting cookies may be set through our site by our advertising partners. They may be used by those companies to build a profile of your interests and show you relevant adverts on other sites. They do not store directly personal information, but are based on uniquely identifying your browser and internet device. If you do not allow these cookies, you will experience less targeted advertising.

Social media cookies are set by a range of social media services that we have added to the site to enable you to share our content with your friends and networks. They are capable of tracking your browser across other sites and building up a profile of your interests. This may impact the content and messages you see on other websites you visit. If you do not allow these cookies you may not be able to use or see these sharing tools.

If you want to opt out of all of our lead reports and lists, please submit a privacy request at our Do Not Sell page.

Save Settings
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Cookie List

A cookie is a small piece of data (text file) that a website – when visited by a user – asks your browser to store on your device in order to remember information about you, such as your language preference or login information. Those cookies are set by us and called first-party cookies. We also use third-party cookies – which are cookies from a domain different than the domain of the website you are visiting – for our advertising and marketing efforts. More specifically, we use cookies and other tracking technologies for the following purposes:

Strictly Necessary Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Functional Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Performance Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Social Media Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Targeting Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.