By Tony Bertuca
The Pentagon is trying to determine what path it will take to resource President Obama’s new strategy to combat the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, which he expects to detail in a speech Wednesday.
Col. Steve Warren, a Pentagon spokesman, said the Defense Department was still evaluating whether it would need Congress to increase funding.
“We believe that we can meet all our requirements right now with FY-14 [overseas contingency operations funding],” he said. “The secretary has often said that we’re going to continue to evaluate needs for future OCO funding as these operations evolve.”
The current fiscal year ends Sept. 30.
The White House submitted a $58.6 billion overseas contingency operations funding request to Congress in July, on top of a $496 billion base budget request for DOD. But with current U.S. operations in Iraq costing $7.5 million per day since June 16, there is a growing chorus of those who think it is only a matter of time before President Obama’s long-term strategy to combat ISIS drives DOD to either amend its FY-15 OCO request to ask for addition funds, or requests a supplemental appropriation from Congress.
“OCO needs to be what it needs to be . . . it’s up to the department what tactic to use,” said one congressional source. “It’s about providing for the incremental increase in costs associated with unforeseen and unprogrammed operating costs. We have got OCO in the president’s budget request but there is always a chance of new stuff coming up. ISIS is new stuff and will need OCO either in a budget amendment or a supplemental appropriation request.”
Congress, meanwhile, is poised to pass a continuing resolution that would fund the government in the early part of FY-15 at FY-14 levels before lawmakers adjourn later this month for mid-term elections.
Roman Schweizer, a defense policy analyst for Guggenheim Partners, wrote in a Sept. 8 note to clients that an FY-15 OCO amendment was likely.
“Defense spending is going to go up,” he wrote. “We think it’s likely that the administration’s fiscal year 2015 overseas contingency operations request will have to be amended upward. How much depends on whether or not the administration pursues an aggressive air campaign to rapidly degrade ISIS units and positions.”
Schweizer estimates that OCO could go up another 10 percent for FY-15 — estimating about $1 billion per month for six months, or an additional $6 billion.
“That’s assuming the administration really wants to go after ISIS,” he wrote. OCO funding “could be more if the U.S. has to provide additional assistance to the Iraqis and Kurds,” Schweizer added.
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel telegraphed the potential spending increase to combat ISIS when he spoke to reporters Aug. 22 at the Pentagon.
“They’re beyond just a terrorist group,” he said. “They marry ideology; a sophistication of strategic and tactical military prowess; they are tremendously well funded. This is beyond anything that we’ve seen.”
Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey told reporters at the time that FY-14 funding remained secure, though questions loomed for FY-15.
“There’s a lot of issues confronting us globally right now,” he said. “We’re answering the call and we’ll continue to do so. I think we’re fine for fiscal year ’14. I think we’ll have to continue to gather the data and see what it does to us in ’15.”