By MARCUS WEISGERBER
WASHINGTON — The US government is not likely to unveil its 2015 spending plan until late February at the earliest, according to budget experts.
The White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) is preparing to send the Pentagon its 2015 “passback guidance” as soon as this week, according to DoD officials and defense observers. The guidance, which includes specific budget and policy marching orders, is one of the final steps before the Obama administration sends its 2015 spending plan to Congress.
After receiving the passback guidance, a final round of negotiations will commence between OMB and DoD on specific items within the budget.
Historically, the negotiations during this period center around the budget’s top line, the total dollar amount allotted for DoD. Since the bipartisan budget deal — approved by lawmakers and signed by President Obama late last month — caps DoD’s 2015 base budget request at $521 billion, top line negotiations should not be an issue this time around, said Gordon Adams, who ran defense budgeting at OMB during the Clinton administration and is now a professor at American University.
Adams and others predict the 2015 budget proposal will head to Capitol Hill in late February. An OMB spokesman was not immediately available for comment as to the timing of the administration’s budget release.
In typical federal budget cycles, which have been virtually nonexistent over the past four years, OMB sends passback guidance in November around the Thanksgiving holiday.
DoD was expecting its 2015 passback guidance from OMB around Christmas, but it was likely delayed due to the late passage of the bipartisan budget deal, according to several sources.
The federal budget is typically sent to Congress the first week of February. Last year, the Pentagon submitted its 2014 budget proposal in April. That spending plan was $52 billion above federal spending caps, known as sequestration.
This year, the Pentagon internally prepared four budgets for a range of top line options. DoD officials are preparing to submit a modified version of the “Alt POM,” the budget prepared for sequestration-level budget cuts. Officials will buy back items with the additional $9 billion received under the two-year budget deal.
One item that could be debated during the negotiations between OMB and DoD is the size of the Afghanistan war budget, which is not included under the Pentagon’s spending cap. DoD requested more than $80 billion for Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) in 2014. That number was only slightly down from the 2013 OCO budget of $89 billion despite the number of troops in Afghanistan being halved.
Since the US has not finalized a status of forces agreement with Afghanistan post 2014, the 2015 OCO submission could be delayed beyond release of the rest of the federal budget, said Todd Harrison, an analyst with the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments think tank in Washington.
Last year, DoD released its OCO budget proposal one month after the base budget.
A force of about 8,000 to 10,000 troops should cost about $20 billion or less, Harrison said. Still, he is expecting an OCO budget request in excess of $40 billion since a lot of training is funded through the separate war accounts.