March 5, 2014
After more than a decade with the U.S. at war, the question around Washington is not whether the Defense Department’s budget will come down, but by how much. The Department of Defense officially released its base budget yesterday, which came in at slightly less than $500 billion, alongside a new Quadrennial Defense Review. Previewing the budget last week, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said the new budget is the first “to fully reflect the transition DOD is making for after 13 years of war—the longest conflict in our nation’s history.”
The White House and the Pentagon face a tough balancing act, both in Washington and abroad. Some conservatives are lambasting the Obama administration for cutting the Army to what would be its smallest size since before World War II, and point especially to Russia’s recent moves in Crimea as evidence of a continued need for U.S. military might.
But according to Todd Harrison of the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, the budget is “incomplete” because the amount of money that will be requested for overseas contingency operations (OCO) has not yet been announced. OCO funding has been approximately $80 billion in recent years.
As Harrison explained in a conference call with reporters on Monday, both the military services and Congress have used OCO funding—which is not subject to the spending caps known as sequestration put in place by the 2011 Budget Control Act—to pay for some of the military’s basic activities, like personnel and base maintenance. Once U.S. troops are out of Afghanistan, which may happen soon, OCO spending may become untenable, leaving the Pentagon with a hole in its budget.
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