By Tony Bertuca
The Defense Department continues to craft “migration guidance” that will direct the process by which the military will begin transitioning priorities currently funded by the overseas contingencies operations account into the base budget.
“Migration guidance will be provided to the services during the 2014 fall budget build for the [FY-16] budget request,” Cmdr. Bill Urban, a DOD spokesman, told Inside the Pentagon in an email. “The Department continues to identify those costs that should transition from the overseas contingency operations budget to the base budget.”
The Pentagon told the Government Accountability Office in a May 30 letter that it would release the OCO migration guidance to the services by the end of July, though that deadline was not met (ITP, June 12).
Urban explained the process was complex and still needed time to come together. “Specific guidance has not been issued to the services,” he said. “This will be a multiyear process that will be refined as [the] Department gets a clearer picture of enduring missions for the theater, as well as the criteria and scope of the future overseas contingency operations budgets.”
The Army, meanwhile, has begun to discuss its top OCO migration priorities with Capitol Hill, according Lt. Gen. Michael Williamson, the Army’s military deputy to the acquisition executive (Inside the Army, July 28).
The Pentagon has sent Congress a $58.6 billion OCO request for fiscal year 2015, with top-level defense officials forced to defend the account against claims that certain segments of it intended for counterterrorism operations are nothing more than “slush funds” (ITP, July 17). DOD requested $85 billion in OCO money in FY-14.
“I have a hard time coping with saying ‘slush fund’ in the same sentence as something we’re using to protect troops on the ground,” Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Sandy Winnefeld said in a July 17 congressional hearing. “I just object to that.”
Budget analysts have noted that DOD continues to fund many activities in OCO that would normally be part of the base budget.
“OCO has destroyed budgetary discipline at DOD, in the Congress, and now at the White House,” Gordon Adams, a White House budget official in the Clinton administration, told ITP in June. “For the past 12 years, the Pentagon has regularly abused the currency, putting base expenses in the OCO. Welcome to the budget party, OCO style.”
In particular, President Obama’s new $5 billion Counterterrorism Partnership Fund — which is slated to be paid for through OCO — has drawn criticism on Capitol Hill.
“I don’t know why you need this money; it’s nothing but a slush fund anyway,” Rep. Walter Jones (R-NC) said during a July 16 hearing of the House Armed Services Committee.
Meanwhile, the military services have long said they will require at least three years of additional OCO funding after the final drawdown of operations in Afghanistan to reset equipment returning from the field.
Deputy Defense Secretary Robert Work told lawmakers last month he expects OCO budgets to be “an enduring requirement after Afghanistan.”