Earlier this week, the popular military media outlet, Defense News, editorialized about the continued abuse of the Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) account. Calling OCO a “giant slush fund,” Defense News urged Congress, the Pentagon and the defense industry to “figure out how to live without it.”
OCO was set up by Congress to fund operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. However, it has been used in recent years by the Congress and the Pentagon as a budget gimmick to fund things not related to the wars and avoid spending caps.
Last month, the Obama administration announced that it would keep just 9800 troops in Afghanistan in 2015, at a cost of about $20 billion. However, the Pentagon is expected to ask for tens of billions of dollars above that in its OCO request. The House of Representatives is expected to approve that request later this month when it votes on the 2015 defense appropriations bill.
Fortunately, with the help of a transpartisan coalition of groups, some Members of Congress have caught on that OCO is nothing more than a slush fund and are doing something about it. Several weeks ago, Reps. Mick Mulvaney, R-S.C., and Patrick Murphy, D-Fla, scored a victory by getting an amendment added to the National Defense Authorization Act of 2015 (NDAA) that would limit what can be included in the OCO budget.
If the amendment ultimately becomes law, the Pentagon won’t be able to move things like the doomed F-35 to the OCO budget and the slush fund will quickly melt away.
But now we must wait to see what happens with the final defense appropriations bill (not to be confused with the NDAA). The House Appropriations Committee’s Defense subcommittee has inserted a $79.4 billion “placeholder” for OCO while it waits for the Pentagon’s request. With all of the attention the groups have brought to the slush fund, we wouldn’t be surprised if the Pentagon was forced to request an amount below the $79.4 billion placeholder. And folks, those billions of dollars we saved will truly be cause for a celebration.