John Cappel on Overseas Contingency Operations

This week, John Cappel joins Michael to discuss the Overseas Contingency Operations budget.  Cappel work on Budgeting for Foreign Affairs and Defense (BFAD) at the Stimson Center.  John and his colleague, Russel Rumbaugh, just put out a report “A Step Backward, or More to Go? FY15 Overseas Contingency Operations Request.
The Stimson Center focusses on global security challenges, and Cappel and his colleagues in BFAD look into where the money is actually going.

Cappel explains how OCO, or Overseas Contingency Operations, contains budget requests that are like supplemental war budgets.  Historically, supplemental budgets often arose in response to some kind of unexpected event, like a natural disaster or some kind of military conflict.  In the past, these supplemental budgets gave way to budgets that took into account the actual conflicts and the supplemental budget requests went away.  The OCO, however, has been around for a long time now.

Supplemental budgets are designed to address things that you can’t plan for.  Cappel contends that because there are caps on the base discretionary budget that apply both to the DoD and non-defense programs.  OCO lives outside the caps imposed by the Budget Control Act to allow the DoD to circumvent the caps.

OCO, which has related to Afghanistan in the past, now is a $58.6 billion request which includes $11 billion for operations and security for the forces in Afghanistan.  There are, of course, support costs, but now there are other things in the OCO request like the Joint Improvised Explosive Device Defeat Organization, which is indirectly tied to our operations in Afghanistan, doesn’t appear to belong in the OCO budget.

Many feel that the OCO budget has become a bit of a slush fund.  DoD, for its part, is beginning to shift some of the OCO-type requests into the general budget.

The OCO Budget also has requests for $5 Billion for the Counterterrisom Partnership Fund (CTPF) with $4 billion for DoD and $1 billion to the Department of State.  There’s also the European Reassurance Initiative with a price tag of $1 billion which mostly goes to DoD.  Cappel refers to both as “head scratchers.”

There’s a lot less Congressional oversight on these kinds of OCO requests than if they were part of the regular budget requests.  However, administration said in 2012 that it would cap total OCO funding over 10 years to $450 billion.  OCO will probably stick around until Congress takes decisive action.

To read more about John Cappel and his work at the the Stimson Center, visit the Budgeting for Foreign Affairs and Defense section of the Stimson Center’s Website.