With Congress Stalled, Pentagon Relies on OCO Requests to Pay Its Bills

With Congress Stalled, Pentagon Relies on OCO Requests to Pay Its Bills
Aerial view of the Pentagon (public domain photo by the United States Geological Survey).

Late last month, the White House unveiled a request for $65 billion in additional spending for the war in Afghanistan and other defense programs, on top of the approximately $500 billion in the Pentagon’s base budget. Over $58 billion of that request would fund the Pentagon’s Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO), which cover military activities that would have previously fallen under the Bush-era rubric of the war on terror. The rest would go to the State Department.

The OCO request, which is more than $20 billion less than the placeholder amount in the fiscal year 2015 budget request announced last March, represents a transitional point for U.S. defense spending. OCO requests have declined significantly from the $187 billion spent in 2008 as the overall defense budget shrinks and Washington continues to scale down from over a decade of war.

But at the same time, the Obama administration and the Pentagon still see OCO money as necessary. The administration intends to use the OCO budget to fund new initiatives recently unveiled by President Barack Obama, including $5 billion in counterterrorism training missions, announced in his West Point address; $1 billion in increased military deployments to Eastern European allies, announced during his visit to Poland; and $500 million to support moderate “vetted” Syrian rebels, announced after the fall of Mosul to fighters from the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). The rest of the Pentagon’s OCO request would go to the war in Afghanistan.

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