By Christine Anderson
Today, the Project On Government Oversight joined a broad coalition of groups – from the fiscally conservative to socially progressive – in drawing attention to “the continued use of a ‘slush fund’ to circumvent the very spending caps that Congress itself put in place.” In a letter to House and Senate appropriators, the groups called for an end to this budget gimmickry. (Click here to read the letter and see the impressive array of groups uniting on this issue.)
The “slush fund” at issue is officially known as the Overseas Contingency Operations account, originally created as a way for the Pentagon to separate funding for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan from other military activities and programs. Unfortunately, the contingency account is increasingly being used as a slush fund for spending that has traditionally been included in the Pentagon’s “base budget.”
Most recently, the Ryan-Murray Budget Deal (Bipartisan Budget Act of 2013) set the spending cap at $520.5 billion – $30 billion less than the Pentagon’s Fiscal Year 2014 budget request. One of the ways that congressional appropriators met the new spending cap was by shifting more than $10 billion from the Pentagon’s base budget into the overseas contingency account.
As U.S. military operations overseas have been winding down, war spending in the contingency account has actually increased. With the bulk of military activities in Afghanistan winding down and the war in Iraq more than two years over, Congress needs to end the use of off-budget war funding.
The transpartisan letter references earlier House votes to cut the Overseas Contingency Operation budget significantly—a bipartisan effort led by Mick Mulvaney (R-S.C.) and cosponsored by Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), Mike Coffman (R-Colo.), and Patrick Murphy (D-Fla.).
It also calls out this discrepancy:
Padding the OCO account in the omnibus appropriations bill ignored not only Congress’ prior actions but also the desire of the American public to see our war spending come down as our troops come home. At a time when the Pentagon is just beginning to exercise fiscal restraint following more than a decade of heavy spending, OCO funding ought to be shrinking.
POGO and our partners have suggested a number of national security spending reforms that, taken together, could save $688 billion if enacted. It’s time for appropriators to get serious about genuine savings at the Pentagon and quit the budget gimmicks.