US Deputy Defense Secretary Robert Work, middle, testifies before the House Budget Committee July 17 about the Pentagon's overseas contingency operations budget request. (Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Sean Hurt/)
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WASHINGTON — The Pentagon could use a new $5 billion counterterrorism fund, strongly opposed by the US Congress, to purchase new intelligence gear and aircraft for American and partner militaries, a Defense Department official said.
Lawmakers on both sides of the political aisle continued to hammer DoD officials about the 2015 $58.6 billion overseas contingency operations (OCO) request, with Republicans and Democrats calling the accounts a “slush fund.” One congressman referred to the OCO accounts as the “cookie jar.”
House Budget Committee Chairman Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., called the spending request “vague” and an “abuse of the OCO designation,” during a hearing on Thursday.
The OCO budget, formerly called a wartime supplemental, has been used since 2006 to fund US military operations in Afghanistan and Iraq. But over time, the accounts have funded other items, such as stateside training for troops preparing to deploy and to replace equipment damaged or destroyed in battle.
Since federal budget caps were put in place in 2013, both Congress and DoD have shifted money for items traditionally included in the Pentagon’s base budget into the OCO accounts, which are not subject to the caps, analysts say.
Several lawmakers at Thursday’s House Budget Committee hearing called the Obama administration’s $5 billion counterterrorism request a “blank check,” saying the White House has provided little detail as to how DoD would spend the money.
Deputy Defense Secretary Robert Work said DoD could use the money to pay for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance equipment for special operations forces.
“These were specifically designed for partner nation efforts,” Work said at the hearing.
“We have requested the flexibility to buy intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance assets that would directly support our partners, increase rotary-wing support for SOF [special operations forces] and maritime support to SOF partners,” he said. ■