As congressional committees continue to dissect the defense budget request for the next two months, a few key pieces of information are still being compiled: chiefly, the Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) budget request, and details about the supplemental $26 billion the Pentagon is asking for as part of the Obama administration’s government-wide Opportunity, Growth and Security (OGS) Initiative.
During a March 5 Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on the fiscal year 2015 budget request, chairman Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) asked about the OGS Initiative, for which the Pentagon had announced an outline of what it would buy but not provided budget-level detail. Defense Department Comptroller Robert Hale told him that line-item detail would be available next week.
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel added “I would just add the bulk of that goes to, I think you know, modernization and readiness, and then, I think, the last 10 percent or whatever you break it out of general hundred percent of the $26 billion would be to try to recapture a lot of the deferred maintenance over the last two or three years.”
In its budget request overview documents, DoD outlines what each service would use that additional funding for, if Congress passes the initiative, which would be paid for by yet-to-be-announced mandatory spending cuts and closing tax loopholes.
At the end of the hearing, Levin commented that “what you are asking for is very, very reasonable in terms of this additional $26 billion just for defense and the $56 [billion] overall for defense and nondefense. We’re going to be given the pay-for in the next couple weeks, I believe, from the administration.” He said several senators have “pay-fors” in mind, in case they object to the president’s plan when it is released in full.
The topic of the OCO budget came up in both the SASC hearing and the House Armed Services Committee hearing on March 6 with the same witnesses: Hagel, Hale and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Army Gen. Martin Dempsey.
At the HASC hearing, Rep. Rick Larsen (D-Wash.) asked what the $79 billion being asked for would pay for, given that the United States still does not have an agreement with Afghanistan to keep troops in the country after the end of this calendar year. The post-2014 plan for Afghanistan would likely not become clear until, at the earliest, after the Afghan presidential election in April, Larsen noted.
Hale said the $79 billion is simply a placeholder equal to last year’s OCO budget with no content behind it. “Once we get that decision” on whether the military will have any enduring presence in Afghanistan, “we will do a formal budget amendment, and then you will have detail behind it.”
Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) also inquired about the content of the $79 billion during the SASC hearing.
“Now estimates that we hear on what might remain in Afghanistan run along a spectrum,” he said. “On one end of the spectrum, we hear high estimates suggesting there might be 10,000 troops or so remaining after the withdrawal. Others suggest that it might be closer to zero. But even at the higher end of these estimates, if it were, let’s say, at the 10,000 range, this would still represent nearly a two-thirds decrease in our presence in Afghanistan next year. So can we expect, in light of that, to see a corresponding decrease in the OCO request for next year?”
Hagel noted that the OCO budget includes funding for operations outside of Afghanistan. Hale clarified that, even in the Afghanistan-related portion of the OCO budget, the decrease would not be proportional.
“There are items in there that won’t come down in proportion to boots on the ground: reset, fixing equipment as it comes out,” Hale said. “Afghan national security forces are possibilities, and there are others as well. I’m not prepared to give you a number. It will come down, but I wouldn’t expect it to be proportional.”