The real story is that Congress and the Pentagon continue to collude on accounting sleight-of-hand made to look like belt tightening.
The Pentagon funding section of the Fiscal Year 2014 Omnibus Appropriations bill, under consideration by Congress this week, seems to take some steps to reduce wasteful spending on programs that do not make us safer or stronger. That’s what it seems to do. But at Taxpayers for Common Sense we took a closer look.
In just the Operations and Maintenance (O&M) sections of the four military services, each of the services appears to be receiving a reduction to their individual O&M bottom lines. See the chart below:
If you only look at the information on this level, it appears that each service is taking a reduction of at least 8% in their accounts that pay for the day-to-day operational needs of running a military department. And that seems very frugal and in keeping with today’s budget environment. Bravo, you might say! But we looked at the details and found the real story.
Starting during the early days of the Afghanistan and Iraq wars, the Pentagon proposed putting some of each year’s budget request into a separate annual budget request for “Overseas Contingency Operations.” Predictably, the acronym-heavy Pentagon started referring to this as “OCO Funding.” Having a separate budget request for OCO meant that the Pentagon budget request looked slightly less bloated, until you added the two numbers together (like we did.) Funding for the wars seemed inviolable on the Hill at that time, and more and more money that should have been in the Defense Department “base budget” (non-war funding) seemed to be slipping over to the OCO side where it received far less Congressional scrutiny, at least publicly.
And, lo and behold, even though we are out of Iraq and on the verge of leaving Afghanistan, the OCO requests persist. Look what we found when reading the detailed Defense funding tables (more than 300 pages of them) in the depths of the Omnibus Appropriations bill:
Note that the Air Force, the military department least involved in the past decade of war, is allowed to move money to OCO, both in real dollars and as a percentage of the request, second only to the Army (the service most involved in the wars.) This is not a success story for deficit reduction, cutting bloated spending at the Defense Department, or even a realization that the war(s) are winding down. The real story is that Congress and the Pentagon continue to collude on accounting sleight-of-hand made to look like belt tightening.