After US President Barack Obama announced drawdown plans in Afghanistan, one of his closest aides spiked everyone’s stress meters.
Deputy National Security Adviser Tony Blinken said the administration would need $20 billion to cover war costs in 2015.
That’s about $60 billion less than what the Pentagon — and the defense industry — was expecting.
The White House quickly pointed out Blinken was talking about the cost of troops alone for the coming year and that the request would be much higher than $20 billion, albeit less than the $79 billion placeholder. Everyone calmed down. Experts expect overseas contingency operations (OCO) funding to fall between $50 billion and $70 billion.
But this is still a big deal because that account covers not only wartime costs, but also tens of billions of dollars for critical items the Pentagon could not cover under its base budget.
Pentagon leadership has been working to move items from OCO to the base budget, but they’re not there yet. And with the Pentagon’s actual budget declining, Congress has also used OCO as a vehicle for funding training, weapons and other programs not covered in the base budget.
Effectively, OCO has been a giant slush fund that gets less oversight than the base budget.
Now Congress, the military and industry must figure out how to live without it — or rush to make haphazard cuts later if they fails to do so.