1:45 PM, Jul 16, 2014 • By ROGER ZAKHEIM
This week senior officials from the Pentagon will testify before Congress on their request for emergency appropriations, known as the Overseas Contingency Operations funding (OCO in military speak). A decision to maintain troop presence in Afghanistan, a resurgence of radical Sunni terrorism across the Middle east, and Russian expansionism in Europe all seem like good reasons for the administration to request the emergency funding. These events, however, haven’t prevented some proponents of defense cuts to question the validity of the request.
To be sure, the OCO request for the Defense Department is $58.6 billion—a substantial sum of money. Yet, it is 31 percent less than last year’s war funding bill reflecting the substantial reduction in U.S. forces planned for the next two years. This sharp decline in war funding hasn’t mollified critics who argue the request is too high because the funding doesn’t keep pace with troop levels, which will drop by 56 percent between this fiscal year and the next. This has led some to conclude that the OCO request is funded beyond what is strictly necessary for Afghanistan and related operations.
This argument is specious. To start, the baseline numbers aren’t equal. If you put aside the new counterterrorism fund ($4B) and the emergency fund for Europe to counter Russian aggression ($1B)—both first time requests and unrelated to Afghanistan—then the OCO request is actually 36 percent less than what was enacted for this year. So, the difference between percentage decline in troop levels and the percentage decline in OCO funding is twenty percent.
There are a number of reasons that explain the twenty percent difference.
Foremost, the need to reset the force after 13 years of conflict. Few want to admit that the OCO has historically been underfunded. In the past, the OCO has not prioritized the reset of equipment. Simply paying the operations and maintenance costs of the deployed troops was all the executive branch could afford or was willing to ask of Congress. With sequestration caps staying in place for the foreseeable future the OCO is the only account that can replace the platforms chewed up in wartime operations. This explains why procurement funding in the OCO is roughly the same as last year—there is a huge reset bill that will take years to pay. Contrary to noise out there the procurement funding makes up less than ten percent of the total request. The OCO request is hardly outfitting new brigades, squadrons or fleets with these funds.
This leads to a more basic point about the dual purpose of OCO: to fund the current fight and to replace the equipment lost in the fight. Congress should scrutinize the requests, but as long as there is a nexus to reset it is legitimate to be included in the OCO request. So when some criticize the OCO for funding programs that do not feature strongly in the military’s vision of the future, but concede their importance to the war in Afghanistan, they implicitly acknowledges that the OCO request is tied to real war-time needs and not funding priorities that otherwise belong in the peace time budget. In other words, the war funding request is playing by the rules.
Another cost driver unique to this year’s war funding measure is the bill for redeploying. Military leaders have consistently testified that redeploying forces, retrograde of equipment and closing facilities and bases in Afghanistan is a costly endeavor. So, redeployment costs inevitably drive up the ratio of OCO dollars per soldier. Congress should also keep in mind that some costs of keeping forces in theater are fixed and apply whether the force is sixty thousand or ten thousand. So as forces go down, not all war costs realize a commensurate decline.
Finally, making this a discussion of only numbers really misses the point. Should it matter that the decline in OCO funding isn't steep enough? In an environment where almost every senior military leader is blue in the face warning of the significant risk to our security posed by sequestration's budget caps it seems entirely appropriate to use the OCO to mitigate that risk. Waiving the banner of budget purity and pointing to the peacetime budget as the more appropriate funding mechanism to address shortfalls smacks of rigid budget ideology blind to reality.
7:36 AM, Feb 26, 2014 • By JERYL BIER
News broke this week that under a plan released by Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, the United States Army will be reduced to its smallest force since before World War II. Though not directly related to that plan, another announcement this week by the Defense Department gives, perhaps, a taste of what those cuts may look like. Plans are underway for massive cuts to the Joint Improvised Explosive Device Defeat Organization (JIEDDO), the organization that has led military's efforts to combat a weapon of choice among insurgents and terrorists in Iraq, Afghanistan, and around the world. JIEDDO's current staff of 3,000 will be reduced to 1,000 by the end of this fiscal year, and further plans could see the number fall as low as 400 down the road.
3:04 PM, Feb 24, 2014 • By MICHAEL WARREN
The Republican chairman of the House Budget committee criticized the Obama administration's plans to shrink the defense budget in a statement.
“The House Republican budgets have consistently met the needs of our military leadership," said Paul Ryan, the Wisconsin Republican. "It’s disappointing that the President continues to use these vital funds as bargaining chips for higher taxes and more domestic spending."
7:01 AM, Feb 19, 2014 • By JERYL BIER
The Department of Defense (DOD) has just announced that the public will be invited to vote in a video competition called "Fight the Enemy." In this case, the enemy is tobacco. The innovation office of the military's assistant secretary of defense for health affairs is sponsoring the competition among U.S. service members around the world who were invited to film and submit "tobacco countermarketing" videos.
Hosted by Michael Graham4:10 PM, Jan 8, 2014 • By TWS PODCAST
The WEEKLY STANDARD podcast, with senior writer Stephen Hayes on Bob Gates and his new book, Benghazi, and Hillary Clinton.
The administration’s move to silence a Pentagon strategist.Nov 18, 2013, Vol. 19, No. 10 • By REUBEN F. JOHNSON
Andrew Marshall, the longtime director of the Pentagon’s Office of Net Assessment, has had a number of titles conferred on him over the years. A 1999 profile in Washingtonian magazine dubbed him “the most influential policy maker you have never heard of.” Others of us who have known him over the years have christened him “the Jedi Master” because, like the enigmatic Yoda from the George Lucas Star Wars saga, he has an uncanny ability to see ahead and to grasp the strengths and weaknesses of the nation’s adversaries.
12:21 PM, Aug 26, 2013 • By SETH CROPSEY
The British launched the opening attack of the 3rd battle of Ypres on July 31, 1917. The objective was to destroy a rail junction on which the German army depended for Western Front supplies. The plan included British naval as well as amphibious assaults on the nearby Belgian coast. The naval action was to have loosened Germany’s grip on continental ports whose danger to England—in the hands of an enemy—hearkened back to Napoleon and foreshadowed Hitler’s Operation Sea Lion both of which British dominance at sea decisively turned back.
7:04 AM, Aug 26, 2013 • By GEOFFREY NORMAN
The Department of Defense is looking at some serious cutbacks in its civilian workforce, as Tony Capaccio of Bloomberg writes:
10:39 AM, Aug 9, 2013 • By GEOFFREY NORMAN
"When word of a crisis breaks out in Washington, it's no accident that
the first question that comes to everyone's lips is: 'Where's the nearest carrier?'"
(President Bill Clinton, March 12, 1993, aboard the USS Theodore Roosevelt)
Twenty years later, it appears that the answer to that question will soon be, "The carriers are in mothballs." Rusting away. We can't afford them any longer."
1:17 PM, Jul 30, 2013 • By JERYL BIER
While furloughs of civilian employees of the Defense Department have not lived up to the pre-sequester billing, the Pentagon is doing what it can to ease the pain for those who will be taking involuntary time off. The American Forces Press Service is reporting that the director of the Pentagon's Morale, Welfare and Recreation (WMR) program is urging furloughed civilians to tap into "fitness, recreational and educational services, often at no charge or for significantly less than one might pay just outside an installation’s gates." The list of "free or low-cost" offerings is extensive:
8:39 AM, Jul 30, 2013 • By DANIEL HALPER
When Congress was debating implementation of the sequester, the Pentagon released a report saying that if the cuts were to kick in, civilian personnel could be furloughed for 22 days -- nearly a month's worth of work. But now that the sequester has kicked in, those furlough days appear to have been inflated.
10:55 AM, May 8, 2013 • By DANIEL HALPER
House Armed Services Committee chair Buck McKeon asks the Department of Defense to release more Benghazi-related details: