Future of OCO Still Uncertain

Inside Defense reports from behind a paywall that the Defense Department will deliver its “migration guidance,” setting out a plan for the services to begin to move war funds back into the base budget, in the fall. Having missed a July deadline promised to the Government Accountability Office, a DOD spokesman said "This will be a multiyear process that will be refined as [the] Department gets a clearer picture of enduring missions for the theater, as well as the criteria and scope of the future overseas contingency operations budgets." The Pentagon plans to have the guidance to the services in time for crafting of the FY16 budget request. DOD’s overseas contingency operations (OCO) budget comes in at $58.6 billion for FY15, $26.7 billion less than enacted the previous year. But the fund has received increased criticism in Congress as U.S. involvement in the wars has drawn down, largely because it allows the Pentagon to work around the budget caps set forth in the Budget Control Act. In response to the administration’s OCO request, which came to Congress late, on June 26, Rep. Adam Smith noted that, “Sequestration doesn’t make any sense. However, none of those other areas of our government have an OCO. … The justification for that spending is something that Congress is going to need to hear.” Rep. Tammy Duckworth went a step further saying that, “It seems this is just becoming another slush fund … without accountability.” But recent developments in Iraq might throw a wrench into efforts to draw the money down, as the administration continues to pull from the budget for operations overseas. The White House argues that the fund, particularly a new portion aimed at counterterrorism operations, is important to have in case of emergency. But some members of Congress disagree. “There’s always going to be something unanticipated in the defense world,” Smith said in the same interview. “You try and budget within the parameters of that, and not have a separate budget for ‘if something comes up.’”