Our mission at The Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation is to educate the public and policymakers on issues of peace and security. On February 26, we brought our mission directly to Capitol Hill, where we hosted the panel event, “Understanding the Pentagon Budget Request.”
We were fortunate to be joined by an esteemed panel. First to speak was Larry Korb, a former assistant secretary of defense and currently a Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress. Larry explained that President Obama’s defense budget request of $524 billion in base dollars and $59 billion in the Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) account, which is not subject to federal budget caps, is more than sufficient to maintain our powerful military posture. In fact, he mentioned, this year’s budget request is larger than the Cold War average when adjusted for inflation.
Next was Wendy Jordan, a Senior Policy Analyst at Taxpayers for Common Sense. Wendy used her time to speak about the $59 billion OCO request, which some members of congress – both Republican and Democrat – believe is too low. But as Wendy pointed out, the Pentagon has publicly admitted that they were forced by law to request an additional $5 billion above what they felt was necessary.
Last, but certainly not least, was Ben Friedman, a Research Fellow in defense and homeland security studies at the Cato Institute. Ben argued that this defense budget, like numerous budgets before it, does not sync military spending with sound strategy. One “egregious” example he cited is the President’s European Reassurance Initiative, which gives additional funding to NATO allies on Russia’s border. The problem – one we’ve talked about before – is that the initiative is in the OCO budget, not the base budget, indicating a $3.4 billion lack of commitment.
Switching to audience questions, an interesting debate emerged among the panel: is wasteful Pentagon spending the product of bad management or funding with few conditions? Larry pointed to years of mismanagement and Wendy singled out excess funding. But Ben argued it’s a product of both: “Excess funding leads to mismanagement.”
Nonetheless, the panel’s thesis was unanimous: for sound budgeting, the military needs a strategy, not just virtually endless dollars, and it’s time for the OCO account to expire – a promise President Obama, unfortunately, could not fulfill.
We want to offer a huge thank you to the panelists and the dozens of congressional staff and members of the public who attended the briefing. Please keep your eye out for more briefings in the near future.